By: Emily von Seele
In John Hyams’ Alone, Jessica (Jules Willcox) has packed up her home following her husband’s untimely death and is moving away from her hometown of Portland to get some space. She sets off one afternoon in her car, pulling her life behind her in a rented trailer, hoping that a fresh start will help her to deal with the loss. As she drives, she begins having encounters with the same vehicle. First, she passes it on a mountain road (though barely, as a semi-truck is barreling straight at them). Then, the driver (Marc Menchaca) approaches Jessica outside her hotel the next morning, offering an apology for the incident the day before. Strange, but it is possible that two people traveling in the same direction would wind up in the same place for the night, right?
But then she sees him again. After multiple encounters, Jessica’s luck finally runs out, and she finds herself kidnapped and imprisoned in the Pacific Northwest wilderness. She must outwit her attacker and brave the elements in order to survive and find her way back to safety.
Though the premise is not exactly original, its execution is what makes it work, particularly when it comes to character development. Jessica is not a damsel in distress. She is a smart woman and a well-developed character. In every encounter that she has with this stranger, she does the right thing. Stays in her car, door locked, window down only a couple of inches. When her internal alarm starts buzzing, she heeds it. She doesn’t fall victim to the expected social cues and roles that are laid out in front of her.
And to his credit, her attacker tries to use those things to his advantage. He plays upon her emotions and her pity. He tries to pass himself off as harmless. He tries to make her feel like a bitch for not interacting with him in the way that he wants.
Writer Mattias Olsson doesn’t use the typical character flaws to drive his story forward. He doesn’t ask his female lead to make the dumb decisions when it comes to her own safety just to advance the plot. Jessica is a smart, capable woman, which makes her abduction even more scary. She does everything right, and still her attacker gets the upper hand.
This approach really works to the film’s advantage. You get invested early. You care about this character and you fear for her because she is making all of the decisions that you would make. There’s no need to tell her to “Run!” or “Stop doing that!” because she’s behaving as a rational, real person would. Both Jessica and her abductor are smart, calculating, and intelligent, so the cat-and-mouse game that ensues after her capture feels like more than the standard “run, hide, repeat” template that a lot of these stories can fall into.
When Jessica finally gets the upper hand, she turns the tables on her attacker in the most satisfying “fuck you” way possible. We spend most of the film in a constant state of anxiety, and the catharsis that comes with her victorious moment is freaking epic.
On paper, Alone probably sounds like a lot of films you might have seen before, but the way Hyams and Olsson tell their story really makes this one stand out. They make you care about their protagonist and fear the villain in ways that are very real and grounded. This is definitely one that you will want to watch with all of your doors and windows locked tight — you never know who could be outside.