Alone (2020) [Fantasia Fest 2020]

John Hyams’ “Alone” begins kind of sketchy. In fact I spent the first fifteen minutes not quite sure where the screenplay was going, if anywhere. But sticking with it, I’m glad to discover that “Alone” is one of the best and most exciting thrillers of the year. While it does get off to kind of a sputter, it transforms in to a journey of self discovery and evolution for a woman who is shambles when we first meet her. By the end, she has to figure out if she can keep charging head first in to the world, or if she wants to recede back in to the night.

Told in a four act structure, Jules Willcox (Netflix’s “Bloodline”) is Jessica, a grief-stricken widow who flees the city alone in an attempt to cope with the loss of her husband. Uneasy from being on her own for the first time in years, she begins to feel unease when she’s consistently approached by a seemingly friendly traveler. When she is kidnapped by a mysterious man and locked in a cabin in the Pacific Northwest, she escapes into the wilderness and struggles to survive in the harsh elements as she is pursued by her murderous captor.

Hyams is very good at building tension, making much of Jessica’s journey on the road very tense and a deceptively simple horror thriller. Hyams operates his narrative on a very small scale, but much of what unfolds is very epic in the way it studies character. Much of “Alone” centers on Jessica and her world opening up whether she wants to or not, and has to overcome pretty much all fears in order to make it back home. What kicks in her will to live, as she’s convinced us in the opening scenes that she has nothing back home after the death of her husband, but fights relentlessly to go back to whatever is waiting for her.

She’s a flawed individual who instantly gains our allegiance the moment it becomes apparent she’ll do anything to survive, and implicitly uses her husband as a means of motivation. Much of the film revolves around Willcox and Menchaca’s characters as they’re pitted against each other in a teeth grinding fight of wills and strength. The pair of performers give stellar performances, and manage to reveal layers in their characters that make them absolutely engaging and often mesmerizing. Menchaca is the perfect sociopathic villain who has little to no sympathy for his victim. He’s not just a primal villain, but a cerebral one who gets in to Jessica’s head time and time again, making her struggles even harder than she realizes.

Really while “Alone” is absolutely worth watching for the tension and biting suspense, the performances by the co-stars is the main draw here. There isn’t room for padding or filler, as Hyams and screenwriter Mattias Olsson get directly to the narrative, and do a great job of establishing the scenario and Jessica’s own sense of self defeat and anxiety. Suffice to say, “Alone” is a masterful minimalist survival film and one that kept me glued to the screen from minute one. 

The Fantasia International Film Festival runs every year, and this year runs virtually from August 20th until September 2nd.

In theaters and on demand September 18th from Magnet Releasing.