For film critics and other careful observers of film over the last year or so, there’s been something of a game we play, especially when it comes to watching smaller films made during the pandemic. There are often signs that COVID restrictions were in place—sometimes it’s more explicit, like having most communication done via laptop or phone, or the film is actually set during a pandemic; sometimes it’s less obvious, like noticing how far apart the background extras are standing from each other even if they’re talking to one another. But with films like Emily Bennett & Justin Brooks’ debut feature Alone With You, it’s the theme of being alone and possibly being driven insane by your own thoughts that is the most interesting kind of tell for a film made during the pandemic.
Bennett does double duty as the film’s star, playing Charlie, a professional make-up artist awaiting the return of her girlfriend Simone (Emma Myles) from an extended work trip. She’s setting up their apartment for maximum romantic atmosphere, and she has to fend off some potential distractions, including a friend (Dora Madison) Facetiming her trying to get her to go out to a club, as well as Charlie’s judgmental mother (the always-reliable Barbara Crampton), who is attempting to find a necklace belonging to her recently deceased mother that was given to Charlie. But once Charlie is able to focus on Simone’s return, things get weird and then strange and then scary.
It’s difficult to explain exactly what goes on in the apartment from this point forward. Charlie hears voices she believes are coming from a neighboring unit, then she starts to think there’s something in her apartment when peripheral-vision shadows start happening. And at a certain point, outright hallucinations start occurring, both in her unit and on any device she attempts to use to contact anyone from the outside world. The front door is stuck shut, and even calls to 911 end in bizarre responses. Charlie is also made to view social media photos of Simone in intimate embraces with another person, but we’re never quite sure how real what we’re seeing is at any given moment.
My patience sometimes grows thin with films in which we can’t tell what’s real and what is either in the head of the protagonist or something being forced into the mind of that person by an outside entity. But between Bennett’s substantial turn as Charlie and a confident visual style from the filmmakers, Alone With You aims for an early-Polanski paranoia vibe and pretty much nails it. And by having Charlie be the sole person in the apartment, the film also has something to say about the nature of loneliness and about not feeling secure enough in one’s skin to be without a partner for too long. In many ways, the movie is a reckoning that Charlie must have with herself, regardless of where these visions and terrible thoughts are coming from. And anytime Crampton is able to cut loose, even in a smaller role the way she does here, is a bonus in my book. Alone With You is a worthy and unnerving debut effort, well worth seeking out.
The film is in select theaters and available via VOD, digital, and DVD.
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