Monday, 2 October 2017

Here Alone - review

2016 (USA)

Contains mild spoilers.

Zombies have shown themselves to be quite the versatile narrative tool. At one end of the spectrum there's absurd farce and brainless splatter action, at the other, drama, romance and even deep philosophical discourse. Zombies disturb the natural order; they blur the demarcation of life and death, and that makes them instantly and intrinsically perturbing yet curious. In response to the scares and jumps there's always the need for disdain, ridicule and the need to reduce the threat, and it's why zombies are as equally at home with comedy and farce as they are in most gruesome and grizzly cinematic spectacular. But if we're willing to subdue the uncomfortable laughs, and turn away the horror to face the silence and darkness with sobriety, they can force us to confront what it is to be human and alive, and they can provide the perfect metaphor for some serious reflection.

Ambitious in its simplicity, Here Alone; directed by Rod Blackhurst and written by David Ebeltoft is one such attempt. It's a film that puts life, more-so, subsistence and survival at any and all cost, front and centre, then pushes from this to explore morality, relationship and hope as basic human conditions. Yet it never insults, as often films that take themselves too seriously do, by actually trying to answer the questions it poses. People are human, and humans err. We're complex, broken and driven by our own desires, wants and obsessions; and we will act irrationally, wrongly and we will be faced to deal with the consequences. Here Alone embraces the chaos of life, warts and all, and spins a survival story that presents a what-if world with brevity and honesty.

As the film begins Ann (Lucy Walters) paints a sorry figure watching her scrape mud and excrement from her emaciated naked body is a harrowing vision of survivalist truth. It's not the apocalypse from a beach front paradise, shopping mall utopia nor even safe secluded, yet barren and simple, forest shack. She's humanity stripped to the bare bones; the embodiment of sad and desperate, cold and broken. It's not shall I have the can of beans or soup tonight; it's how many beans should I have to be alive tomorrow.

Here Alone is Ann's personal story. From flashbacks to a time before the world fell to the violent, rabid zombie viral pandemic, to her own haunting journey of loss, to stark sober lessons from her husband Jason (Shane West), on survive in the wild, her story of is one of loss, redemption, and ultimately of recovery and the renewal of hope. But it's a long harrowing journey, and one more of narration and implication than ever visceral or obvious. 

In fact I think there are only a handful of scenes where the zombies actually make an appearance, and even fewer where they're actually the focus. Yet, they're actually as intense a threat, and as utterly terrifying as any zombie out there. One can point to the modest budget, and short (23 day) shooting calendar, but Blackhurst's decision to push the zombies to the periphery works extremely well. Here Alone positions the zombies as the utterly final unknown assailant, and Ann and her two eventual companions, Chris (Adam David Thompson), and his teenage stepdaughter, Olivia (Gina Piersanti) as inevitable victims. Each encounter oozes tension and dread, and each is memorable and full of impact. 

Here Alone won't be for everyone. As said it's not a horror, though there are some tense jumpy moments, and it's neither excessively gruesome nor an action spectacular. It is however a thoughtfully presented and intelligently constructed personal, intelligent and haunting tragedy that's both well acted and satisfyingly both complete and in many ways incomplete, and left open. It's a snapshot of how miserable and truly difficult life could be if the walls did actually come tumbling down, and a reminder to cherish what and who we have. Poignant and brave, Blackhurst's take on the apocalypse is bleak but captivating 6/10.



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