Fantasia Film Festival 2020 Screening – A slow burn start of building tension puts Jules Willcox’s Jessica in several scenarios that may very well get the hairs on the back of your neck standing and inspire the loudmouth theater attendee in all of us to yell things at the screen. I’m happy to say that while Jessica definitely makes a few decisions I’d advise against as a viewer of many scary movies, she also proves smarter than the average bear against an antagonist plenty wily in their own right. The direction, score, and technical aspects all effectively serve the story while providing a setting with lots to look at and several shots I’d say were lovely (an overhead of a river jumps to mind).
With bags packed and mini-Uhaul loaded up, Jessica (Jules Willcox) sets off earlier than planned on her quest to relocate far away from everything she’s known for years. The two wedding rings on a chain around her neck suggest tragedy plays a part in the move, but every time Mom (Betty Moyer) or Dad (Shelly Lipkin) attempt a phone chat she puts a stop to it immediately. Soon enough Jessica has something else on her mind entirely when an unfortunate episode with a fellow driver (Marc Menchaca) on a two lane road results in increasingly worrisome encounters that put her mettle to the test. Unless she wants to join her deceased husband sooner rather than later Jessica has a lot of rough road ahead…
The filmmakers ease into the story with a sparse, focused intro to establish Jessica’s headspace during her solitary drive from the heart of an active city out to woodsy hunting grounds. No narration or sampling of a later scene only to jump back three weeks earlier, just the start of her journey before circumstances spiral into a fight for survival. A handful of brief title screens signal different stages of the ordeal beginning with “The Road” and while they might seem useless, they’re worth it if only for one specifically I think gives a good forward tease of what’s coming once the momentum hits a little wall.
Jules Willcox has to shoulder most of Alone herself (as the title suggests) and if you ask me she’s up for the task. She does glum, detached sadness well without coming across as a forever miserable sad sack but more a woman who’s had a tough time and wants to start over elsewhere. There aren’t wry asides or one-liners for her to land at perfectly timed moments, or really much in the way of “humor” at all aside from dark, situational stuff. Even then it’s mild and doesn’t detract from the tone or act as a release of tension, really.
In particular, the first half hour is a very nicely done little cat-and-mouse thriller in it’s own right. Come to think of it, with a couple creative edits that 30 minute chunk would be quite a top-notch short film. It’s more enjoyable for me when characters aren’t raving idiots actively contributing to their own demise with stupid decisions so while I won’t be detailing specifics, I like a lot of how Jessica handles herself even before she knows the full scope of the situation. Once things progress beyond the first segment of “The Road” I can definitely think of a few bits that let the experience down a scoche (and one pet peeve of mine that weighs in at more than “a scoche”), but they’re not colossal or anything Alone doesn’t overcome by the end.
If you’re at all a fan of creepy, tense thrillers or survival stories that evoke a certain “what would I do?” element of playing along I think this would be a good and suspenseful time.
8 out of 10 Mini-Uhauls to Nowhere
|Alone – Available September 28th.
||1 Hr. 38 Mins.