Fantasia 2020: Alone

  • Director: John Hyams
  • Writer: Mattias Olsson
  • Stars: Jules Willcox, Marc Menchaca, Anthony Heald

Review

Recently widowed Jessica (Jules Wilcox) has packed her belongings up into a U-Haul, hitched it to her Volvo and is setting out along the coast of the Pacific Northwest to restart her life. Fueled by coffee, she loses her patience with a car that is driving particularly slow and this seemingly innocuous moment of annoyance will turn into a deadly game of cat and mouse.

After her near fatal collision due to the actions of a mystery driver in a black SUV, Jessica will continue to see this same car along her route. The driver of this car is a plain looking middle aged man, the kind you never give a second glance to and couldn’t pick out of a lineup. Pair this with his generic vehicle and Jessica’s building paranoia can easily be written off as just that: a woman traveling alone is an easy target and maybe she’s just being too paranoid. Writer Matthias Olson may have a somewhat barebones story, but he utilizes the unspoken social etiquette demanded of women to propel the story.

Jessica is clearly a capable and independent woman, but that doesn’t supersede her compulsion to be polite to the driver of the SUV when he first approaches her. You can feel her skin prickling at his mere existence, her lizard brain telling her to immediately get away from him, but you can also feel her social responsibility to be friendly. This fight or flight moment is the kind of thing that men don’t think about because they never have to, but this is exactly what the driver counts on. Our menacing driver in question is played by Marc Menchaca and he’s excellent. Mecnchaca recently played the baddie in The Outsider and while this role is more subtle, he’s still creepy as heck. 

Jessica will allow societal niceties to get in her way a couple of times and each time the man gets angrier with her because her survival instinct always keeps her at arms reach. These two will engage in escalating battles traveling through the woods and Jessica will have to find the Final Girl within herself if she wants to make it through the night in the cold and rain. A chance encounter with a hunter (Anthony Heald) will again display the ways in which women are viewed as hysteric and overreacting while men are simply reacting and being heroic. Throw in the need for Jessica to survive this because it also means she will survive and overcome the passing of her husband and Alone has some interesting comments on the female experience.

Director John Hyman lovingly captures the beauty of the Pacific Northwest and also appears to be a devotee of David Lynch or at the very least, Twin Peaks. There are numerous overhead shots of the trees and I could practically smell the damn fine coffee and hear Laura Palmer’s theme. Overall, Alone is a solid thriller that does a great job of slowly upping the suspense and the final battle of wills is certainly a cinematic one. Wilcox and Menchaca play well off of one another and when Jessica goes for the man’s ultimate Achilles heel, it’s wickedly satisfying. And no need to worry about social politics or commentary weighing down your viewing experience. It’s entirely possible that this viewer read too deeply into it. Or maybe I just live in the reality that Jessica does and Olson lives in the reality that the unnamed male driver does. Either way, those are the moments in the film that make it more interesting and add an emotional heft to it.

Played as part of Fantasia Film Festival 2020

Lisa Fremont

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