Studio: Vertical Entertainment
Director: Rod Blackhurst
Writer: David Ebeltoft
Producer: Noah Lang, David Ebeltoft, Rod Blackhurst, Arun Kumar, Josh Murphy
Stars: Lucy Walters, Gina Piersanti, Adam David Thompson, Shane West
A woman surviving alone in the woods during a viral epidemic has her solitude interrupted by the arrival of two other people.
A viral epidemic took Ann’s husband Jason, her infant daughter Hailey, and essentially obliterated normal life as everyone knew it in North America. Before his demise however, Ann’s outdoorsman husband gave her the gift of essential wilderness skills such as marksmanship, animal trapping, and food foraging.
One year has passed since ravenous, infected humans overran civilization and first forced Ann to retreat deep into a remote forest. Today she remains there by choice. Having spent that time becoming accustomed to self-sufficient subsistence, safety in solitude seemingly suits her.
Then Ann finds teenager Olivia huddled over her injured stepfather Chris on an otherwise untraveled road. Ann cautiously takes the two of them in, nursing Chris back to health and offering shelter in exchange for assistance maintaining her camp.
In time, Ann sees her hardened disposition eroded by Chris’ charm. But as they grow closer, Olivia grows distant. Now the evolving dynamic among the trio threatens to endanger their lives more than the creatures lurking around the perimeter.
Act one of “Here Alone” occupies a familiar frame. Ann’s evening hours are spent recalling parts of her recent past in flashback. Uneventful days are filled with chores such as stockpiling berries, stitching physical wounds, or raiding a nearby home for canned goods.
Something “Here Alone” does differently while establishing its exposition is it illustrates the most unpleasant aspects of a desperate existence. Smeared animal excrement hides the scent of Ann’s flesh. Urine is collected for antiseptic use. Eating mealworms for protein causes violent vomiting.
Ann starts from the same To-Do list we’ve seen countless others check off in doomsday film and TV. Yet “Here Alone” takes these tasks one step further from what is usually shown for dour realism that solidifies the setting.
The next step is taken by surprisingly cinematic production design for a small-budget indie dependent almost entirely on exteriors. Slightly sapped colors and a slightly cool hue bleach cinematography with a tint of visual bleakness to complement Ann’s faded emotional energy. Confining isolation is evident everywhere, even though wide angles capture expansive scenery surrounding Ann on all sides.
“Here Alone” puts a lived-in look into its Spartan world. The crew didn’t park on a country road and point a camera at the nearest tree. There is a true feeling of being entrenched in harsh territory that is treacherous and imposing, no matter how much Ann insists on calling it home.
Completing the film’s patiently built sense of drama is a terrific triangle of understated performances. Adam David Thompson has a Joel Kinnaman quality to his personable presence, lacing a hint of uncertain menace into his aura. Lucy Walters matches up as his Mirielle Enos, confidently wrapping Ann in a stoic demeanor masking deeper vulnerabilities beneath.
The tragedies bringing Ann, Chris, and Olivia together are only spoken of in broad strokes. Sadness is communicated by silence. Intentions are communicated by inflections. These are everyday people fighting for continued existence without flash or theatrics. Like the environment they inhabit, they feel real.
The recompense for enduring the emotional ups and downs on this trio’s collective and separate introspective journeys hinges on audience expectations. This is not “The Walking Dead” or “28 Days Later.” In fact, the afflicted antagonists are seldom seen at all save a few quick instances during the climax.
Director Rod Blackhurst’s sobering story of survival from David Ebeltoft’s script is an intimate play that is heartbreakingly human. Captivation comes from its characters, not from its monsters. Concurrently, having personal connections composing its core keeps “Here Alone” from hitting hard beats of horror, action, or suspense some might anticipate from its setup.
The movie is a thoughtfully crafted character dissection. It’s just that the slow smolder of its down-to-earth melodrama puts the film in an unenviable uphill battle where it underperforms against more energetic peers.
Through oversaturation, the zombie subgenre has come to mirror the same sort of scenario it generally depicts. It’s a kill or be killed world where the infected (bad/mediocre movies) vastly outnumber humans (notable standouts). Only the strongest can survive in an unforgiving landscape where food (a viewer’s time) and ammo (a viewer’s money) are in short supply, and few can afford to care who lives or dies. Respectable virtues only go so far. The real way to stay steps ahead of the competition is to be cunning, clever, and absolutely cutthroat.
By way of deliberate design, “Here Alone” demonstrates how not being fierce enough can get you lost in the shuffle, if not eaten alive in the overcrowded field of undead entertainment. As successful as the film is at being quietly contemplative, it is difficult to be enthusiastic about swimming in a subdued post-apocalyptic setting when audiences are already drowning in a flood of similar product.
Review Score: 60