Director: David Moreau
Writer: David Moreau, Guillaume Moulin
Producer: Abel Nahmias
Stars: Sophie Lesaffre, Stephane Bak, Paul Scarfoglio, Jean-Stan Du Pac, Kim Lockhart, Thomas Doret, Renan Madelpuech
Five young teens wake up to find that everyone else has inexplicably disappeared from their town, which is surrounded by a mysterious fog.
Imagine the world of “The Walking Dead” without zombies. In fact, imagine it without any living or undead entities at all. That’s the fate facing 15-year-old Leila when she wakes up one morning to find her small French hometown of Fortville inexplicably empty, without a single sign as to where everyone went or why.
Initially feeling like Cillian Murphy in “28 Days Later,” Leila eventually discovers she isn’t as alone as it seems. Gradually, she grows a small group with four other confused kids anxious for answers no one can give. But the most immediate matter for the quintet may not be completing their collective quest to uncover what happened. It’s staying alive when a suspicious drone, arrows from an unseen bow, and a knife-wielding masked man show dogged determination to kill them all.
Much like the kids depicted onscreen, you’ll probably find yourself mirroring their frustrated feelings of being lost in a maddening mind-maze. That’s because “Alone” is stingy when it comes to dropping hints about what’s really happening. It turns out there’s a good reason for such stubbornness regarding why the film doesn’t play fair as a mystery. The movie basically builds to a crescendo twist that, if known from the get go, would reduce the slender story to little more than a hide-and-seek game with a sci-fi slant.
When this revelation finally arrives, which isn’t until well into the last act, you’ll also probably react with a “wait a minute” while experiencing distinct déjà vu that you’ve seen this particular premise before. And if you’ve been around genre thriller fare often enough, you almost certainly have.
Those less tuned to similar material may respond with a pleasantly surprised “ohh!” Been-around-the-block parties may instead answer with a disappointed “aww!” In the middle where both reactions meet is the more balanced observation that “Alone” flirts with familiarity, resulting in a feel that isn’t so fresh in hindsight. Yet it also trades heavily in David Moreau’s directorial flair, which polishes dystopian bleakness with cinematic sleekness that entertains as an adolescent fantasy far more than it falls flat as slightly flighty fiction.
Led by Sophie Lesaffre, the young actors carry their characters with energetic engagement, even if they are archetypically arranged. Lesaffre’s resilient tomboy Leila balances outward angst with inner emotions regarding her terminally ill brother. At the other end of a wobbly would-be romance that never blooms with any real believability is standoffish Dodji, a brooding boy too busy grimacing to contribute to any team effort. “Alone” oddly has two people filling the bespectacled bookworm slot, although young Camille takes on the traditional role while Yvan mixes in spoiled rich kid syndrome too. Terry brings up the back end, notable solely for being the youngest.
Spottier than shortsighted personality development are occasions where tasteful social conventions are bucked to build a story beat. With “Alone” being a French film, I’m willing to chalk up such instances to cultural differences that carry varying weight depending on which hemisphere an audience is in.
“Alone” introduces a special needs boy in a weird way. Because these kids are so singularly defined by a dominant trait, the manner in which he is used doesn’t sit straight. Additionally dicey discomfort comes when a 16-year-old drunkenly tries coaxing a 15-year-old into sex. The film plays this piece for levity, reinforced by everyone’s laughing reactions, but that’s not a scenario that reads the same way universally.
Personally problematic perceptions notwithstanding, sparse action moves swiftly while intrigue remains heavy. Cool hues lend a good look, accented by visual effects that are aces when they showcase a threatening cloud enveloping the city, but aren’t so hot in overhead establishing shots where cars bump off obstacles like a last-generation PlayStation game. As is true of the movie overall, bad has to be taken with the good, as well as with the mediocrity in between.
Based on a comic series by Fabien Vehlmann and artist Bruno Gazzotti, “Alone” goes on about three minutes too long. For fans who shout curses when a movie’s ultimate explanation leaves them in the lurch, here is a case where spoon-fed substance comes off as a cumbersome alternative.
“Alone” concludes on an epilogue meddling more with takeaway satisfaction than if its outcome remained ambiguous. These final moments have seemingly limited context outside of the presumably deeper source material. Moreau might have done well to choose different last steps toward end credits, though the journey retains solid value as escapist entertainment with interesting takes on old tropes.
NOTE: The film’s French title is “Seuls.”
Review Score: 65