I didn’t realize how on edge the idea of someone stalking another person on the roadways made me until I watched 2020’s Alone. I was on the edge of my seat and YELLING at the television.
The film, billed as a psychological thriller, but also fits in the realm of horror, follow Jessica (played by Jules Willcox) who is moving across the country, pulling a U-Haul of her stuff.
For some reason, the only time I thought Jessica erred, was when she tries to pass a driver going too slow on the roadway. First off, passing anyone other than the few obvious ones (a slow-moving tractor, a mailman, garbage truck, etc.) is so dangerous and an unnecessary risk. Doing it on a windy country-like road is even more dangerous and an unnecessary risk. Doing it when YOU ARE HAULING A U-HAUL AS WELL, thus creating even more time you need to get around the vehicle in question, is absurd to me.
The vehicle in question is operated by a unknown man (played by Marc Menchaca) and the hell ensues from there.
So, knowing what we end up knowing about the man, he likely was going slow to create that situation. And if she didn’t go around him, he would have created another reason to stalk her. The fault lies 100 percent with the homicidal psychopath, not Jessica, to be clear. I’m just saying, I never would have passed anyone like that.
The film is directed by John Hyams, who is most known for doing the Dolph Lundgren-led Universal Soldier films, which doesn’t sound promising, with all due respect. However, thanks to the assured hand of Hyams, the tension in this minimalistic film is off-the-charts. Hyams isn’t in a hurry. He lets the film develop with a nice slow burn, including long focus shots where we see the maniac’s vehicle in the background before Jessica does, setting the ominous stage.
Interestingly, Mattias Olsson wrote the screenplay for the film. His other feature length screenplay? Försvunnen, which seems to be the Swedish version of this film and came out nearly a decade prior.
Maniac man even tries to pull a Ted Bundy in his second encounter with Jessica, where he blocks the roadway with his “broken down” car and then feigns like his arm is hurt. She doesn’t buy it and drives off. By the third time he encounters her at a rest stop, that’s when I was YELLING at the television for her to get the heck out of there. Unfortunately, he seems to have messed with the tire on the U-Haul and she crashes.
That’s when he kidnaps her. From there, he psychologically torments her by showing her a video on her own iPad of Jessica with her husband. He gets her to reveal that her husband killed himself. He taunts her with that.
Menchaca is genuinely scary in this, first in an understated way with his glasses and mustache, and then later when he turns more homicidal and crazed. He plays both sides of the maniac well. When Jessica tells him she won’t say anything to the police if he lets her go, Menchaca delivers the scary line, “Do you think you’re the first one to say that?”
Much credit also, obviously, has to go to Willcox, who carries a lot of the film. I was rooting for her throughout, first to escape the maniac’s cabin in the woods, then to get out of dodge. When trying to escape through the woods, root goes through her foot. Whomever did the special effects on that, wow, because it looked like a root actually went through her foot and then she pulled it out.
She’s able to escape the maniac and encounters a hunter, Robert (played by Anthony Heald), who tries to help her. The maniac, though, gaslights the situation by pretending Jessica is his sister and is having an “episode.” But, to Robert’s credit, he doesn’t buy it and wants to see proof. Unfortunately, he’s dealing with a psycho and gets his head bludgeoned in.
One of the hardest to watch scenes and in which Menchaca flips the maniac script to the maniac portion instead of understated psycho, is when Robert is hunting Jessica. Using Robert’s hunting gun, he takes a shot at Jessica. He seems to graze her right arm. So, he knows she’s in the area. But it’s dark and he can’t find her. He resorts to trying to goad her out by trashing her husband for committing suicide. Gah, that was rough. But Jessica was smart and didn’t take the bait.
In a rather daring move later on when the maniac is burying Robert’s body, Jessica goes into a car, presumably to drive away. But come on! He wasn’t going to leave the keys in the car! She hides in the trunk when the maniac returns to the car. What happened to the shovel he used? Because if he brought the shovel back to the trunk, then he would’ve discovered her.
Nonetheless, while in the trunk, Jessica calls 9/11 with the maniac’s phone. That was the second minor issue I had with the scripting: most places in the United States allow you to text 9-1-1. Think about it, if you’re in an emergency, often times you can’t verbalize the emergency due to the present danger, such as Jessica’s ordeal.
Still, it’s the next 10 or so minutes that are among my favorite in all of horror in the last decade. Seriously.
First, Jessica takes the action to the maniac by whacking his stupid head with a tire iron multiple times and then is able to retrieve his own knife and stab him in the arm. All of this chaos causes the vehicle to crash and both of them to be injured.
Jessica slips out of the vehicle and heads to a clearing in the woods. She still has the maniac’s phone. Earlier in the film when Jessica was escaping the cabin, she overheard the maniac talking to his wife and child and lying to them about what he was doing and where he was, obviously.
SHE CALLS HIS WIFE! Standing there about 15 feet from the maniac, calling his wife and telling the wife that her husband is a kidnapper and killer was AWESOME. One of the coolest, most unique things I’ve ever seen done in a horror film. Both Willcox and Menchaca play the scene so well, particularly the latter as he whispers to his wife about having to take care of something as she’s frantically yelling for him.
Then we get a muddy, scrappy fight between Jessica and the maniac where Jessica is able to stab him multiple times and kill him. The film ends with the whirring of a helicopter, presumably a police one from her phone call (where they traced it).
I love horror movies where you put the protagonist, often the so-called “final girl” through the ringer and this film put Jessica through the wringer. Her face was bruised up from being assaulted by the maniac. Then her foot got messed up from the root. She nearly drowned in the river trying to escape. She was grazed in the arm by a hunting rifle. She survives a bad car crash. She’s muddy as heck from all the rain, and then survives nearly being choked to death by the manic. What a great, great “final girl.”
I can’t wait to see more of Willcox’s work after this movie.
My only outstanding question concerns Jessica and her mother. For some reason, Jessica and her mother have an estranged relationship and it never gets explained. Does she somehow blame her mother for what happened with her husband?
Anyhow, I love movies that make the most of their simple premise in stylish, gritty fashion. Phenomenal little film here. I highly recommend this film. If a film can get me yelling at the screen and looking like this the whole time:
That’s worth a view in and of itself because, as easy as I am to please, that reaction doesn’t happen often. Add in the spectacular finale and whew.