here_alone_3Year: 2016
Director(s): Rod Blackhurst
Writer(s): David Ebeltoft
Region of Origin: US
Rating: Unrated
Digital, Color, 89 mins

Synopsis: A young woman struggles to survive on her own in the wake of a mysterious epidemic that has decimated society and forced her deep into the unforgiving wilderness. (Source)

Here Alone sets itself apart right from the start, offering a striking montage of picturesque landscapes to contrast tenuous tranquility with the horror we know we’re about to witness. Though Rod Blackhurst’s directorial debut takes place in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by zombies, I hesitate to call it a zombie film – it takes focus off of the flesh-eating hordes for a more deliberate and human examination of grief and solitude. Blackburn’s film is downbeat and grim, at its best an artful look at humanity in its most primal form, stripped of societal etiquette and left to the savage law of survival. Armed with a magnetic performance from star Lucy Walters, Here Alone takes on the survival genre with a much welcomed perspective, exploring who we are when everything’s been taken from us, and what it is that makes life worth living.

The story takes place sometime after an unidentified outbreak has overrun most of humanity. Ann (Lucy Walters) lives alone and out of a car, living a repetitious life of foraging, listening to weak signals on the radio and trying to stay hidden – her solitary life barely passes as living. One day, she discovers Olivia (Gina Piersanti) and Chris (Adam David Thompson) on the side of the road, a young girl and her stepfather who is wounded and inches from death. Ann hesitantly takes them in, at first keeping her distance, but slowly opening up. As the trio begin to trust each other, deep-seated fears slowly bubble to the surface. Amidst all this, the film is alternating to a time when Ann was still with her husband and baby girl. As we slowly learn what happened to Ann’s family, her present day conflicts force her to make a huge choice with uncertain consequences.

As you can already tell, Blackburn’s film isn’t the type where gore and kills are played out for cheers, but a patient, restrained effort more concerned with how humanity deals with life after societal collapse. The film’s infected, feral antagonists are smartly absent for the first half of the film, with Blackburn instead building a rhythm of solitude through Ann’s daily routine. When she’s finally forced to engage with others, the film becomes a dissection of the societal norms and human interaction we take for granted. It’s the film’s existential nature that becomes its strong point, making it that rare kind of horror film to relish in its exploration of humanity and thrive in times of silence and protracted moments of mundanity. Though it does have instances of savagery, the film’s horror is mostly psychological, with Blackburn allowing his characters to earn a few moments of genuine happiness so that their desperation hits that much harder. Who are we without our loved ones? What’s the point of it all if we have nothing to live for? These are just a few of the questions that surface throughout the film, and they stick with us long after the film ends.

here_alone_1Breathing life into the film’s intangible ideas is a strong cast, anchored by Lucy Walters. As Ann, Walters runs the show, carrying almost the entire first half of the film alone, and without dialogue. We feel her isolation and how numb she’s become to the world around her – she’s capable of so much just from a stray glance and contrasts internal fragility with outward strength. Gina Piersanti’s Olivia and Adam David Thompson’s Chris play a great foil to Walters, giving her complimentary personalities to test her moral resolve. This main trio has no trouble keeping the film interesting, building suspense through various character contrasts rather than plot.

Working with familiar ideas, the final product isn’t objectively adding anything new to the genre, but is commendable for giving it a richness it rarely strives for. There’s a strong metaphor within the film’s minimalist premise, allowing it to avoid cheap thrills and delve deeper into our innate need for human connection, including what happens when we’ve lost the ability to trust. As it stands, Here Alone is a strong first effort, stylish and with more on its mind than its peers, presenting a fascinating respite to an overcrowded, overdone genre.