by Hope Madden
“Do you think you’re the first one to say that?”
That is a good, sinister question when posed by the mustachioed traveler responding to his captive’s promise to remain silent if he lets her go. It’s good because it clarifies to her and us that this is not his first prisoner rodeo, an unsettling fact that increases tensions and moves the story forward.
It’s also a good question to ask director John Hyams as his road trip horror Alone serves up a very familiar premise.
Jessica (Jules Wilcox), her beat Volvo station wagon and hitched U-Haul trailer are making a cross-country trip. Nobody else, just them. Sure, Mom keeps calling, but Jessica just can’t right now.
It’s beautiful, wooded country, but a little treacherous—more so once that black SUV starts following her around.
You know where this is going from the opening scene, so the only hope is that the execution delivers some thrills. Drone shots of trees may be a little tired by this time, but they are pretty and they give the sense of isolation. Screenwriter Mattias Olsson makes subtle changes to the predictable story, giving each character an unexpected layer or two to keep you guessing.
Wilcox’s no-thrills performance suits the project beautifully. Though frustrating in the early going (don’t pretend you wouldn’t do some stupid things in that situation, too), Jessica’s resolve and tenacity are proven with a focused, physical performance.
Marc Menchaca, known only as Man, is a delight in the role of the villain. That ‘stache! Nary a false note creeps into his menacing demeanor. His is the saucier of the two characters and the hateful chemistry between the actors drives the thrills and commands attention.
Anthony Heald also makes a welcome appearance at about the halfway point, and the action takes an effective turn with him. But mainly, Alone benefits from two truly savvy performances. It just doesn’t have much to say that we haven’t already heard.