Fantasia Film Festival 2020: Daniel Wood Reviews Alone

Alone pits one bereaved woman against an unassuming psychopath at Fantasia Festival in this horror survival thriller that strips away with everything else other than one woman’s solitary white-knuckle battle against a predator.

We are introduced to Jessica (Jules Wilcox) who is embarking on a road-trip away from her past who, during her journey, encounters an initially harmless albeit strange Man (Marc Menchaca) who somehow manages to always be where Jessica is, setting off her intuition that something is amiss with this strange man.

Indeed these opening moments, particularly when Jessica who is already weary of the Man has to contemplate helping him with his broken down car and risk putting herself in danger, or driving away, show the struggle that, I can only imagine, most women feel every day about interacting with strange men they don’t know when they’re alone and in the middle of nowhere.

These opening scenes of Jessica going about her journey before we get the tense stand-off between Jessica and a deliberately slow black SUV that almost causes Jessica to crash head-on into a tanker and the ensuing ‘coincidental’ meetings with the Man being revealed as the SUV driver help to build suspense, and Menchaca does a great job of imbuing his character with a hollow Ned Flanders-esque politeness that barely covers up his sinister behaviour.

So when the façade slips and the man finally snaps and reveals his true predatory nature in a shocking scene during which he kidnaps Jessica and locks her in a dark and dingy cabin room, it’s still shocking, despite being entirely expected at this point. It also makes the following breakneck action and tense thrilling battle between the two much more effective.

What follows is a straight-forward cat-and-mouse chase between an understatedly psychotic and menacing Man and a devilishly resourceful and intelligent Jessica, evidenced by the incredibly smart way she escapes from her captor’s makeshift dungeon, as she flees further into the wilderness to escape him. This isn’t a film where you’re left bewildered at the stupidity of the protagonist, in fact at every turn Jessica barely puts a foot wrong.

The film and story remain incredibly contained with only one other character appearing briefly, a hapless hunter played by Anthony Heald, who finds himself temporarily and ill-fatedly caught in the middle of the cat-and-mouse chase between Jessica and the Man, allowing for a very tense scene to be played out. Other than that it’s simply Wilcox and Menchaca’s show, which is in no uncertain terms, a bad thing!

Wilcox is incredibly committed as the film’s lead and heroine and is completely unafraid to embrace the physicality of the forest she finds her character fighting for survival in. She plays Jessica with an incredibly fierce amount of strength that genuinely makes you feel like she’s more than a match for the Man, despite her dire situation.

There’s also a nuance to her performance of Jessica, as we learn, through fleeting moments of dialogue and character-building, that the film mostly forgoes for the action and thrills, that her partner killed himself and it’s implied that Jessica is struggling with this loss and her emotional state and will to live are something she’s forced to directly confront as a result of her predicament.

The gorgeous forest setting and excellent cinematography choices help to convey this as we often get shots of Jessica looking directly up at the oppressive and overbearing canopy of trees, a metaphor for her mental state, perhaps. How fitting it is, then, that the climax of the film takes place in a forest clearing, the clutter of the trees burnt away and a barely triumphant Jessica looking up to the clear sky, free at last in multiple ways.

In many ways Alone can be seen as an extreme redemption story with Jessica finding a renewed lust for life and ready to begin a new start after having all of her issues stripped away by an imperative fight or die scenario, it certainly succeeds on this level. However, it also succeeds as a literal, visceral feature length one vs one fight to the death making it well worth a watch!

For more reviews and interviews, check out our Fantasia Film Festival 2020 coverage here

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