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Here Alone
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by Erik Childress

"Sometimes Alone Is Better"
2 stars

When Rod Blackhurst’s Here Alone premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2016, it was probably deemed as just another apocalyptic survival tale. Films of the type are prime fodder for independent filmmakers who only need a few actors and an unpopulated location. Given the events of 2020 to the publishing of this review and beyond, there is a whole new appreciation for survival instincts after a viral pandemic, or at least one for wearing masks. COVID-19 spawned a feverish lockdown revisit of Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion and maybe that was as far as people wanted to take it despite some really harrowing films awaiting their own re-appreciation. Here Alone starts with promise and ended by winning the fest’s Audience Award. However, as the film actually ends with a near-silent scream, I finished with an even louder one which reverberated over its many flaws.

In an unspecified time a viral epidemic has broken out, seemingly wiping out nearly everyone. We meet Ann (Lucy Walters) who is now alone, bathing in lakes and camouflaging herself with mud for reasons we will learn later. She does have a backstory which is slowly rolled out in flashbacks as she escaped civilization with her husband, Jason (Shane West) and newborn baby. Jason is curt in making sure Ann has the survival instincts necessary especially as the virus has apparently turned the population into fast-moving zombies on the hunt for blood. These opening scenes have a quiet grace and power following one of the last survivors living outdoors, running out of gas and imagining the pain she carries for whatever happened to her family. As they are clearly not with her, we can imagine the worst. But then she finds some traveling companions.

The teenage Olivia (Gina Piersanti) and her stepdad, Chris (Adam David Thompson). Ann reaches out to help them, though our cinematic instincts towards strangers in a desperate landscape should give us pause of their trustworthiness. At their first fireside chat, Chris notices Ann’s bulk of supplies and all-too-casually comments that “most people would kill for this stuff.” That should be the moment to cut these two loose one way or another, but instead the trio venture forward with the adults moving towards an unconvincing relationship beyond just walking buddies.

The attempt to turn this group into some kind of family dynamic can not compare to the elements that have established Ann as a lone survivor. The proverbial strength in numbers comes not from this group but what is dribbled out throughout the story. This is the rare film where the flashback tale feels more urgent and grounded with images such as using her child’s toy as bloody bait. These stakes are instantly higher even if Ann does benefit from the quietest baby this side of A Quiet Place’s childbirth sequence. Her leaving the baby to hunt for supplies would be a white knuckler of a sequence if we did not already know her current situation. The film’s failures in the present are then a result of more than just the lack of a physical threat but the emotional one that is not properly explored.

As the flashbacks are dribbled out right up until the final scenes, we are asked to project ourselves back into behavior and decisions made by Ann as a result of her obvious trauma. The problem is that no such convergence exists. Chris gets to tell his story about the viral rings that would signal infection. Then she tells hers which is not dissimilar. Her experiences do not seem to have had much effect on her and the ending is one big F.U. for Ann and the audience who seems expected to carry the grief that Blackhurst was unable to contextualize in his main character. Walters’ performance becomes a victim itself since we are left to identify her emotional fortitude as numbness when a better screenplay and director would have found more intimate moments for us to share in her grief rather than spring the worst of it on us in the closing minutes. Any film now where the first contact with another human being results in the raising of a mask is going to draw attention. But the ones that will truly endure and deserve re-discovery such as It Comes At Night and Into the Forest, wield every element as a potential tragedy; lessons that too many people learned too late due to leadership that failed them.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=30636&reviewer=198
originally posted: 05/09/21 11:06:53
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Directed by
  Rod Blackhurst

Written by
  David Ebeltoft

  Lucy Walters
  Gina Piersanti
  Adam David Thompson
  Shane West

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