Depending on who you talk to, survivalist zombie apocalypse films have either been played out entirely (with 28 Days Later being the high-water mark for many), or there might just be something new to glean from the genre. Of course, the filmmakers that seem more keen to try to find that something within the genre are generally those outside of Hollywood. With his feature début, Here Alone, Rod Blackhurt attempts to take a look at the human side of a zombie apocalypse, with a focus on personal loss amidst the chaos. Here Alone scored the Audience Award for Narrative at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, so there must be something here, right?
Having experienced tragedy during her escape from the zombie epidemic, Ann (Lucy Walters) now lives and survives alone in the remote wilderness. Amidst the peaceful serenity of the woods, Ann remains vigilant for any sign of zombies or hope that the situation has improved. A chance encounter results in Ann meeting two other survivors, Chris (Adam David Thompson) and his stepdaughter, Olivia (Gina Piersanti). Cautious at first, Ann reluctantly offers Chris and Olivia food and shelter. Eventually, Ann begins to see more in the two of them that reminds her of her own family.
The first half hour of the film focuses solely on Ann and her daily regimen of survival. She gathers berries and grubs, attempts to trap larger game (what animal can resist Easy Cheese?), washes her clothes in the lake, and the camouflaging of her car at night prior to sleeping. In amongst the scenes of Ann doing her best Bear Grylls, the film flashes back to her past, bringing the viewer up to speed on how Ann got here. There are the usual clich&eactue;s of a radio broadcast warning people about the epidemic, the avoiding of other survivors, and scenes of Ann attempting to learn from her husband Jason (played by Shane West) the basics of surviving in the woods. There are moments of tension (such as Ann discovering a remote house with potential supplies) that are further enhanced by Eric D. Johnson’s score, as well as the “less is more” approach of hearing the rabid zombie horde instead of seeing them. There are also scenes which attempt to accentuate just how alone Ann really is. Moments where Ann is by the lake or sitting on a log in the field in attempts to hear anything other than the stock emergency broadcast do the job, but the scene of her playing one of those annoying handheld games (with its cloying electronic voice) hits it home. It’s all in an attempt to have the viewer bond with Ann. It does the job, albeit not without a few hitches.
In these sorts of films in which a handful of characters are placed in isolated areas, it can be tough on the actors’ performances. Fortunately, things work out. The flashbacks with Ann and Jason do the work of fleshing out Ann’s relationship with her husband Jason and their baby, although at times there’s not enough emotion displayed between Ann and Jason. It could be said that the situation dictates otherwise, but things don’t feel quite as right as they should. The relationship between Ann and Chris, however, definitely hits the mark, with the appropriate apprehension and reluctance on the part of Ann at the beginning. It never feels forced, and progresses naturally to the point where there’s attraction. We end up learning more about each party’s past and tragedies, and the characters are fleshed out. The same can be said of Ann’s relationship with Olivia, although the understandable hostility from Olivia towards Ann never quite feels realistic. It’s a problem that all the actors have in the film, where there are moments of questionable acting that are made more obvious due to the small cast.
The missteps in the acting department aren’t so problematic as the fact that even with a few superficial changes, Here Alone doesn’t really bring anything new to the table when it comes to this type of film. Sure, there’s the focusing on loss, loneliness and survival, and the final scenes definitely hit home with that, but there’s nothing that separates this film from the other films that have come before it. Making matters worse is that in spite of the film clocking in at 97 minutes, the first half, in all of its attempts to develop the character of Ann and her backstory, proceeds incredibly slowly, leaving the film’s sense of danger to a select few scenes. Also, despite Ann being the focus, you don’t feel as attached as you should to the protagonist. Part of the problem is Walters’ seeming refusal to show emotion. The previously-mentioned scene designed to emphasize her loneliness isn’t as effective because of Ann’s stoicism. I can understand wanting to appear hardened in the face of tragedy or a lack of human contact, but it doesn’t seem human to not let the cracks show. Even Ripley showed emotion when expected.
So while I can appreciate Blackhurt’s attempts at exploring the emotion people might have during a zombie apocalypse, and the loss that it can incur, there’s really nothing with Here Alone that hasn’t been said in other films in the genre. As well, many of those films were able to keep the tension high with the threat of being overrun with zombies. The relationships between Ann, Chris and Olivia, while not perfect, are executed quite well. And the remoteness of the forest setting does communicate both a sense of beauty and isolation, providing many moments of Ann being in solitude. It’s all just hampered by the pacing and the need for more emotion. It’s certainly not a bad film, but one that lacks a necessary component to make it stand out from the rest of its ilk.
Here Alone screened at Bruce Campbell’s Horror Fest in Chicago.