PLOT: A woman's struggle to survive in the wilderness during the zombie apocalypse is further complicated by the arrival of two strangers.
REVIEW: A filmmaker with a decade's worth of short film and documentary credits to his name, Rod Blackhurst has made his narrative feature directorial debut with HERE ALONE, a post-apocalyptic horror film that provides a deeply depressing viewing experience - but you have to have patience with it in order to be on the receiving end of its depressive impact. The sedate tone and deliberate pace may tempt you to let your attention wander before the film reaches the end of its 97 minute running time, and if you check out of the story you might not end up feeling as down and rattled as I was when the end credits started to roll.
Scripted by first-time feature writer David Ebeltoft, HERE ALONE certainly isn't breaking any new ground. It's yet another entry in the zombie sub-genre to come along in the wake of The Walking Dead's massive success, although sticklers may not want to call it a zombie movie. Since its bloodthirsty maniacs are suffering from a viral infection, some may call them "infected people" rather than zombies. But whether they're the living dead risen from the ground or people turned into mindless killing machines by an infection, they're all zombies to me. Ebeltoft even handles his zombies in the way established by George A. Romero - as the threatening back-drop to a story of how humans are the real danger to each other in a zombie apocalypse.
There are only four actors with on-screen speaking roles in the film, which starts out as something of a one-woman show carried on the shoulders of Lucy Walters as Ann, who is struggling to survive in the post-apocalyptic wilderness by herself. The stretch of the film that focuses on Ann's lonely routine, which includes eating crackers, gathering grubs, unsuccessfully setting traps, using a bucket as a toilet, and coating herself in animal dung to mask her scent when she ventures out into the zombie-infested countryside in a search for food, goes on for so long that you might even start to wonder if she is going to be the only character in the modern day section of the story, with others appearing just in the flashbacks that show how she ended up in this situation. After all, Ann being the only person around would fit the title. That isn't the case, though, as others do eventually show up.
The flashbacks show that Ann was brought out into this wilderness, along with her infant daughter, by her husband Jason (Shane West) when news of the viral infection was just starting to break. Jason knew this area, he's the one who knew how to survive off the land. The fact that neither Jason nor the infant are around any longer made the flashbacks the most intriguing part of the film for me, as I knew there had to be something terrible and tragic coming down the line. I wanted to know what happened, but at the same time I dreaded seeing what happened. There's a baby involved here... I won't give anything away, but I will say that Blackhurst didn't hold back on showing us what went down, and it is absolutely heartbreaking.
Even after all the time she has spent out in the woods, Ann isn't a great survivalist. Viewers are likely to be groaning at her incompetence at times, or having even stronger reactions to her mistakes. It's not just her lack of ability, she has made mistakes that a person wouldn't be able to forgive themselves for. When she comes across two other people, she opens up her camp to them. Anyone familiar with zombie stories knows that these people are much more likely to ruin everything she has going on rather than increasing her chances of survival.
The pair Ann takes in are Adam David Thompson as young widower Chris and Gina Piersanti as his teenage stepdaughter Olivia. They're supposed to be leaving Ann's camp very soon, but they keep finding reasons to stick around longer and their presence does have an up side - it provides Ann with some much-needed human contact. For a while, it seems like she could have a good thing going with this two. Unfortunately, there is trouble brewing just under the surface, and I do have to hand it to Ebeltoft, the specific problem that these characters end up having with each other is not something I have seen in any other zombie story.
HERE ALONE is an interesting film with emotional resonance, but it also has issues that hold it back from being as effective as it could have been otherwise. The answers to the questions it brings up aren't often very satisfying or clear, to the point where I was left confused by a couple things within the film. The largest issue is its length and pace. Even though I was invested in finding out what was going to happen to the characters, I didn't feel that this was a story that required a runtime of 97 minutes, especially when it moved along so slowly that the film felt like it was nearly twice as long as it actually is.
Ann also does some very stupid things that I just can't get past, but given the fact that the character also can't get past them I can't really fault the movie for them... Not too much, anyway...
For a couple different reasons, HERE ALONE isn't an easy film to sit through. If you want something lively and exciting, this is not the movie you're looking for. If you want to give your attention over to some very flawed characters and slowly be told a story that may well leave you feeling devastated, this movie can certainly deliver that experience.