Review: ‘Alone’ (2020), starring Jules Willcox and Marc Menchaca

October 23, 2020

by Carla Hay

Jules Willcox in “Alone” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

“Alone” (2020)

Directed by John Hyams

Culture Representation: Taking place in unnamed parts of Oregon, the horror flick “Alone” features an all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A widow traveling by herself on a road trip is kidnapped by a stranger after a a road-rage incident.

Culture Audience: “Alone” will appeal primarily to people who like watching realistic and suspenseful “women in peril” movies.

Jules Willcox and Marc Menchaca in “Alone” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

If you consider how many movies are about women who’ve been kidnapped and held captive in an isolated area, then it’s pretty commendable that “Alone” takes this very unoriginal concept and still makes it a very suspenseful movie that isn’t tacky or overly melodramatic. “Alone” (directed by John Hyams) also makes great use of locations and having a small number of people in the cast to make this a satisfying thriller that is horrifying without being exploitative.

When it comes down to it, there are really only two main characters in this film: the kidnapper and his victim. The movie (written by Mattias Olsson) is told from the perspective of the protagonist Jessica Swanson (played by Jules Wilcox), a woman in her 30s who is on a road trip in an unnamed rural part of Oregon. Jessica is taking this trip by herself, and the beginning of the movie shows her closing the door of a U-Haul trailer where she’s packed her possessions, as she’s about to embark on this trip.

Jessica is moving somewhere to start a new life. She’s grieving over the death of her husband Eric (played by Jonathan Rosenthal), who’s shown in brief flashbacks in home videos that Jessica watches on her computer tablet. Eric died six months earlier, and his cause of death is revealed later in the story.

There’s almost nothing else about Eric that’s stated in the movie, such as how long he and Jessica were married or what he did for a living. But it’s very clear, based on the snippets of home videos that Jessica watches while she silently cries, that she and Eric were happy together. They had no children together, and Jessica seems to be a loner, because her concerned parents (who do not have names in the movie) are only people she checks in with by phone during her road trip. (Betty Moyer is the voice of Jessica’s mother. Shelly Lipkin is the voice of Jessica’s father.)

Jessica has an independent streak, because it’s revealed in her phone conversations with her parents that she impulsively decided to pack up and leave early for her road trip, after making plans for her parents to come over to her place and help her move. This sudden change of plans doesn’t case major problems with her parents, but they seem to be a little bit thrown-off they didn’t get a chance to help her pack and say goodbye to her. They’re also worried about her traveling by herself, but Jessica assures them that she will be just fine.

Her final destination is never talked about in the movie, but Jessica is heading north, and she begins her trip during the day. As she drives through an isolated, heavily wooded area of Oregon where each side of the road has only one lane, Jessica comes across a black Jeep that’s driving too slow in front of her. She tailgates the Jeep, but the driver either doesn’t see her or doesn’t take the hint to speed up. The Jeep’s license plates are covered in mud, making it impossible to get a clear view of the license plate number.

Finally, in frustration, Jessica decides to pass the Jeep, even though it means she would have to go in the lane for traffic that’s going in the opposite direction. She waits until the coast is clear and then goes in the opposite lane. But the driver of the Jeep (played by Marc Menchaca) sees her and speeds up, to indicate that he doesn’t want her to get in front of him.

Just as this happens, a big-rig truck is driving right toward Jessica, and it looks like she’s about to crash into it, but she’s able to increase her speed fast enough and swerve into the correct lane in front of the obnoxious Jeep driver, who then decides to tailgate her. Rather than continue this cat-and-mouse road rage situation, Jessica drives off the nearest side exit and waits long enough to let the Jeep drive ahead, so that by she gets back on the main road, the Jeep is nowhere in sight.

However, miles later, when she’s at a gas station, she’s startled by someone tapping on her window. It’s the Jeep driver: a bespectacled, red-haired man who’s in his late 30s or early 40s. This stranger tells Jessica that he’s sorry for the road-rage incident earlier. He makes a weird excuse that he had been texting while driving and didn’t see her at first, and when she swerved in front of him, he kind of got angry.

Jessica accepts his apology, but senses that something is “off” with this guy, because he’s being too nosy when he asks her what her name is, where she’s headed, and if she lives nearby. He doesn’t volunteer the same information about himself. Jessica tells him her first name only, and gives a vague reply that she’s headed north.

This guy seems to want to continue the conversation, but Jessica politely cuts it short and tells him that she needs to go. However, he’s obviously seen her U-Haul trailer, so he can figure out that she might be someone who’s not from the area and might be unfamiliar with the terrain if she gets kidnapped. Because you know that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

The movie builds up suspense to this kidnapping, by showing this mystery man encountering Jessica at other times during the trip, just like a predator stalking his prey. His name is revealed toward the end of the movie, but for the purposes of this review, he’ll just be referred to as the “kidnapper” from now on.

The next time Jessica sees the man who will kidnap her, his Jeep is blocking the road, and he’s got the car lid up, as if he’s having car problems. He’s also got his arm in a sling. Because his car is stopped in the middle of the lane, Jessica stops her car.

He flags her down and tells her that his car engine suddenly died, and he needs a ride to the nearest gas station. He also asks Jessica to help him move his Jeep off of the road. In a lot of kidnapping movies like this, the victim is fooled too easily and makes bad decisions in order to be polite or look like a Good Samaritan. What’s great about this movie is that the victim doesn’t make bad decisions and doesn’t easily fall for a seemingly harmless-looking person.

Instead of agreeing to let this strange man into her car, Jessica offers to call the nearest gas station for him. She tells him she that she can use her car’s GPS to find it. Seeing that Jessica is no fool and that she has a working cell phone, the kidnapper then says that he knows which gas station it is, and then tries to get Jessica to open the car door so that she can help him move his car out from the road.

Of course, getting a “stuck” car off of the road is what a tow truck is supposed to do. Jessica knows it, the kidnapper knows it, and she senses that this guy is up to no good because he’s acting as if she’s the only one who can help him. And it’s a red flag that he declined Jessica’s offer to call the nearest service station, and there’s no mention if he has his own phone to call for help. Jessica makes an excuse that she has to go because she’s late for a meeting, and she drives away.

It should come as no surprise that the kidnapper doesn’t really have an arm injury. He wore a sling on his arm to make himself look harmless. Faking an arm injury by wearing a sling or a cast is a tactic that kidnappers sometimes use to lure their victims when they ask for the victims’ help as a way to catch them off-guard. It’s a tactic that notorious serial killer Ted Bundy used for many of his victims.

During her road trip, when Jessica parents call her or she calls them, Jessica doesn’t really tell her parents about her encounters with this stranger, because there’s nothing they can do about it. What exactly can she say anyway? This guy didn’t break any laws with her. She doesn’t know his name or license plate number. She only has the description of him and his Jeep.

However, Jessica starts to become frightened when she sees the man in the Jeep again. This time, it’s at night and she’s at a nearly deserted rest stop. She quickly leaves the area and calls 911 when she thinks he’s following her. But it’s a false alarm, because it’s another car that was behind her.

However, as soon as she hangs up the phone, Jessica suddenly loses control of her car, which swerves off into a grassy area by the side of the road. When she gets out of the car, she sees that one of her tires has been slashed. As she gets back into the car to call for help, that’s when the guy in the Jeep suddenly drives up, uses a tire iron to smash her front passenger window, assaults her and kidnaps her.

Jessica wakes up to find that she’s in a locked basement in an isolated cabin in the woods. She begs the mystery kidnapper to let her go and promises she won’t tell anyone. He replies with a sadistic smile, “Do you think you’re the first one to say that?” The rest of the movie shows Jessica’s ordeal in trying to escape.

The believability of “Alone” rests largely on how the actors portray their characters. And fortunately, Willcox and Menchaca give very believable performances in their roles. The horror of “Alone” comes from the fact that there are many real-life kidnappers and serial killers who look like “average people” with “average lives” but they have an evil, twisted side to them that’s well-hidden from a lot of people. And as previously stated, “Alone” doesn’t make the female victim a gullible dimwit, which is an annoying flaw of other kidnapping movies.

The only slightly false note in “Alone” is when Jessica calls 911 and tells the 911 operator that she doesn’t know where she is and can’t even give a general location. This is after viewers see that Jessica’s car is equipped with GPS. However, this fairly minor plot hole could have an explanation that maybe Jessica was in panic mode and wasn’t thinking clearly.

In terms of kidnapping movies, “Alone” doesn’t do anything innovative. But it keeps the suspense throughout the entire film and presents enough realistic scenarios that it will definitely serve as a cautionary tale for anyone taking a long road trip alone. This movie is proof that you don’t need flashy action stunts or a large cast to make a very effective thriller.

Magnet Releasing released “Alone” in select U.S. cinemas and on digital and VOD on September 18, 2020.

Review: ‘Alone’ (2020), starring Tyler Posey, Summer Spiro and Donald Sutherland

October 16, 2020

by Carla Hay

Tyler Posey in “Alone” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Alone” (2020)

Directed by Johnny Martin

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the horror flick “Alone” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A bachelor who lives alone in an apartment fights to stay alive during a zombie apocalypse.

Culture Audience: “Alone” will appeal primarily to people who like zombie movies that are heavy on suspense but light on character development and a logical plot.

Summer Spiro in “Alone” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

There have been so many movies that take place during a zombie apocalypse that any new movies that come along have to offer something truly unique to stand out from the pack. Despite many suspenseful moments and some fairly good acting, “Alone” (directed by Johnny Martin) falls very short of developing well-rounded characters and has too many implausible elements for it to be considered a superb zombie movie. It’s the type of horror movie where viewers still won’t know much about the main characters by the end of the movie, compared to when the characters were first introduced in the film.

This “Alone” movie should not be confused with director John Hyams’ stalker thriller “Alone,” another horror movie that was also released in 2020. Matt Naylor wrote the “Alone” zombie flick screenplay. And it’s the same screenplay that director Cho Il-hyung adapted into the South Korean movie “#Alive,” which was released in South Korean theaters on June 24, 2020, and debuted on Netflix on September 8, 2020. (Naylor and Cho are credited with writing the “#Alive” screenplay.) This is a case where the American movie version of the same screenplay is far inferior to the South Korean movie version that was released first.

The zombie flick “Alone” immediately starts with the zombie plague spreading throughout the world. The movie takes place in Los Angeles, where a tattooed bachelor in his late 20s named Aidan (played by Tyler Posey) wakes up in his bed next to a woman who’s about his age and who had a sexual encounter with him the night before. This woman is never identified by name, and it’s never explained how he met her or how long he’s known her. But later in the movie, Aidan essentially says that she was never his girlfriend, so viewers have to assume that she was just a fling.

As soon as she leaves, Aidan looks out from the back balcony of his high-rise apartment building and sees a girl on the street getting attacked by zombies. And then, he sees a helicopter crash into a building. From that moment on, all hell breaks loose. You’d think a zombie plague like this would spread a lot more gradually. But no. In this movie, the plague literally spreads everywhere within minutes, and the entire world is caught off-guard.

The next thing you know, zombies are everywhere outside and in the hallways of the apartment building. Aidan frantically turns on the news and sees the newscaster report that people should hide, preferably inside, and stay in that hiding place for as long as possible. Phone service is intermittent and it eventually becomes unavailable. And eventually, electricity, Internet service and running water/indoor plumbing become unavailable too.

Before the phone service no longer becomes an option for Aidan (he eventually gets an “all circuits are busy” message every time he tries to use his phone), he checks his voice mail and finds out that his parents have barricaded themselves in an office building, while Aidan’s younger sister has escaped to try and go to the family cabin. (In “#Alive,” the isolated protagonist is younger than the Aidan character, and he lives with his parents and his sister.)

One of the biggest plot holes in “Alone” is that the zombie plague spread so quickly, and yet there are no signs of the military or law enforcement trying to fight the zombies in an effort to save people’s lives. This lack of government defense in “Alone” is absolutely illogical, because when the military and police are nowhere to be found during a zombie apocalypse, it’s usually after a certain period of time when resources are depleted and the military and law enforcement have given up trying to fight off the zombies. With nowhere to go and no one to turn to for help, Aidan spends the majority of the movie by himself.

Early on when the zombie apocalypse hits, Aidan lets in an agitated neighbor named Brandon (played by Robert Ri’chard), who (not surprisingly) has been bitten by a zombie and quickly turns into a zombie while he’s in Aidan’s apartment. Aidan is able to get Brandon out of the apartment in time, but the hallways are filled with zombies that keep pounding on the door and trying to break into apartments. Aidan barricades his front door with his refrigerator.

These are not slow-walking zombies, like the ones in director George Romero’s 1968 classic “Night of the Living Dead.” The zombies in “Alone” run quickly, they’re all starving for human flesh, and they blurt out and repeat things like “Kill me,” as if they consciously know they’re doomed and want to be put out of their misery.

Another terrifying thing about these zombies is that they will only eat humans who are alive. Dead human flesh means nothing to them. They are also sensitive to sound and will run in the direction of any noise.

“Alone” does a pretty good job of making the zombies in the movie very gruesome-looking. They also have an extra-creepy factor because they can still talk, even after they’ve fully become zombies. In most zombie stories, the zombies lose their ability to talk. However, because so much of the movie is centered on Aidan being alone, it’s disappointing that so little effort is put into showing who Aidan really is as a person, except for being a scared guy who lives by himself.

The movie never mentions what Aidan does for a living, and the only hobby he’s shown to have is surfing, because he has a surfboard in his apartment. It’s implied that he’s plays rock music, because of the electric guitar he has in his apartment, but is it just a hobby or is he a professional musician? The movie never gives an answer to that question, nor does it reveal anything significant about Aidan’s past. There’s a scene where he looks at some family photos and a video of his mother on Hollywood Boulevard, but that’s it.

Early on in the movie, when Aidan knows that he’s going to have to spend a great deal of time by himself, he starts making video blogs, also known as vlogs. In one of the vlogs, he mentions that this is the first time in his life he’s been alone for an extended period of time. And yet, the movie never gives a sense of Aidan having any friends whatsoever.

The movie wants to give the impression that Aidan is an extrovert who’s used to being around people and has an active social life. And yet, you’d never know that he’s an extrovert, because Aidan is never seen mentioning anyone else in his life who’s important to him, besides his family. There are also no pictures of Aidan with anyone besides his parents and sister. It’s one of the many ways that this movie isn’t very well-thought-out and has too many inconsistencies that aren’t explained.

At another point in “Alone,” a female zombie ends up in Aidan’s apartment, and he hits her on the head with a baseball bat and presumably kills her. (Bashing a zombie’s head is the main way that zombies are killed.) Instead of removing the zombie from his apartment (he could’ve easily thrown the body off of the balcony if he didn’t want to open his front door where zombies are roaming the hallways), Aidan instead puts the zombie in a crawl space whose door opens from his bathroom ceiling. He then puts an upright surfboard underneath the crawl space door to keep it shut.

Later in the movie, Aidan becomes really desperate for food, but he doesn’t want to go outside in the building hallways, which have zombies everywhere. He also lives too far above ground to jump from his balcony. And so, he goes in that crawl space to see where it leads, with the hope that it will lead to a safe apartment that has food.

But the zombie corpse that Aidan put in the crawl space is nowhere to be seen. And the crawl space looks very unrealistic: It’s immaculate with stainless steel floors and walls. It doesn’t look like an apartment building’s crawl space, which realistically would be dusty and probably dirty. It looks like a slick, high-tech tunnel. In other words, the movie’s continuity and production design lack realism.

The first third of the movie drags with Aidan repeatedly bemoaning the fact that he’s by himself. If this movie’s screenplay had been written better, this period of isolation could have given viewers more insight into Aidan’s personality and the life he had before the zombie apocalypse. But all viewers get is Aidan rambling to himself about how he hates being alone while he makes another video entry in his vlog.

Aidan keeps track of how many days he’s been in isolation, which number at least 45 days, and in one video entry he says he’s three days away from running out of food. However, Aidan conveniently has plenty of water in bottles. It’s a stash that comes in handy not just for himself but for someone else he meets later in the story, when the movie picks up its pace and gets more interesting.

One of the movie’s major inconsistencies is that although Aidan eventually runs out of food after nearly two months of isolation, he never looks like he’s lost any weight. There’s a scene much later in the movie where Aidan is shirtless after he’s been malnourished for several weeks, and his chiseled, healthy-looking body looks exactly how it was when the zombie apocalypse started. Granted, “Alone” is not an Oscar-caliber film where the actors do Method acting and lose a scary amount of weight in real life, but the filmmakers didn’t put any effort into making Aidan look more gaunt, either through makeup or any visual effects.

Eventually, Aidan becomes so despondent that he hangs a rope on his ceiling and looks like he’s about to commit suicide. This suicide attempt is shown in the movie’s opening scene as a flash-forward of what’s to come, and then shown again when it actually happens. Just as Aidan tightens the noose around his neck, he looks outside his balcony window and sees a pretty blonde woman who’s about his age in the apartment building directly across from his building, and her apartment is slightly below eye level from his.

Aidan is so overjoyed at seeing another living human that he jumps (and nearly strangles himself in the process) and rushes over to communicate with the woman through a serious of hand-written messages and hand gestures. They don’t want to talk out loud to attract the attention of the zombies. Viewers will have to suspend disbelief that it took this long for Aidan to see this neighbor.

The woman in the other building is named Eva (played by Summer Spiro), and she is also single and by herself. In yet another unrealistic aspect of the movie, Eva looks very polished for someone who’s been in a zombie apocalypse for several weeks where there’s no running water or electricity. Except for her hair being slightly uncombed, she doesn’t look as distressed and disheveled as people realistically would be after several weeks of going through this type of ordeal.

Aidan and Eva talk about how much food and water they have left. Eva is almost out of water, so Aidan ties a makeshift rope and throws the other end to Eva so she can tie it to her balcony. He then slides some bottled water down the rope to her. This act of kindness begins a friendship and later a courtship between Aidan and Eva, but for most of the movie, it’s too dangerous for them to meet up and be in the same room.

Will Eva and Aidan get together in person? And if so, how will they get to each other when the area is infested with roaming zombies? Those questions are answered in the movie, which includes a fairly brief appearance by Donald Sutherland, who plays another human survivor named Edward.

As the main character Aidan, Posey does his best in conveying all the different emotions that Aidan goes through in this story. The problem is that it’s not enough when this entire movie lacks character development. Even though Aidan is in every scene of the movie, very little is revealed about him as a person. Viewers never find out what his hopes and dreams were before the zombie apocalypse, or what kind of friend, brother or son Aidan is, other than Aidan showing the expected concerned for his family. Almost nothing is revealed about Eva, except that she likes to draw and she was once engaged to be married.

The zombie chase scenes in the movie are handled in a generic way. “Alone” also has the same cliché as a lot of zombie stories, by having the hero miraculously able to avoid getting a zombie infection, even after being viciously attacked by zombies. The disappointing “Alone” will inevitably be compared to South Korea’s “#Alive,” but it’s a valid comparison because “#Alive” is a much better interpretation of the same story. It’s hard to like a zombie movie that won’t show human survivors as well-rounded people.

Lionsgate released “Alone” on digital and VOD on October 16, 2020. The movie’s release on Blu-ray and DVD is October 20, 2020.