It’s a common misconception that horror movies can only be scary on a physical level. Take the zombie subgenre, for example. While zombies showcase horrifying, flesh-torn appearances, there’s just as much “unseen” horror to be found in Armageddon scenarios and the total societal breakdowns that their presence brings about. Those changing environmental dynamics that characters deal with internally versus the the shambling, undead monsters who represent a more tangible enemy. Fear comes by way of choices that must be made, and in a film like Rod Blackhurst’s Here Alone, actual creatures play second fiddle to isolated, apocalyptic dread. “Zombies” attack, but decisions haunt – if you can stomach a more slow-burn aesthetic.
To be fair, David Ebeltoft’s script is not a straight-forward Romero take on zombie lore. It’s more a 28 Days Later viral thriller that follows a lone woman, Ann (Lucy Walters), as she tries to survive alone in the wilderness. The film cuts between her present day duties of setting traps and finding edible berries, and flashbacks to when her husband (Shane West) and baby were still alive. The infection in question, which turns people into bloodthirsty psychopaths, starts with a few red bumps on a victim’s abdomen, so Ann is easily able to screen people she encounters along her way (even easier if they start running at her and screaming). Day by day, Ann keeps pressing on, surviving as she can. Forage, sleep, repeat – welcome to the end of days.
Here Alone is a familiar zombie survival tale, immediately evoking similar lone-wolf feelings to Jeremy Gardner’s The Battery. Many scenes are made up of long, no-dialogue montages that feature Ann killing time, Eric D. Johnson’s score remains highly important, and characters focus more on living than slashing their way through hordes of walkers (or “runners” here). The Battery is a bit tighter though, and achieves an elevated level of Mumblecore-inspired horror success, while Blackhurst’s vision gets a bit too predictable and dull. Here Alone only runs at a meager 97 minutes, yet begins to drag as if you’re enduring a 120-minute plus affair.
Ann does encounter a step-father and step-daughter about halfway (or so) into the film, so it’s not a one-person endeavor throughout. Olivia (Gina Piersanti) is found crouched over Chris (Adam David Thompson), nursing his bleeding head wound, so Ann brings them back to her camp. After some medical work, Chris is up and about, so he can begin establishing a sexual tension with Ann while Olivia watches with certain pause. It’s the kind of expected interference that’s supposed to add drama, yet stumbles a bit because of obvious outcomes. The addition of castmates for Ann to interact with are supposed to liven up Here Alone, but elongated shots of Olivia and Ann sitting silently next to one another don’t really add much value.
For all its dreary beauty and questions about moral choices, there’s a slow lifelessness that eventually creeps in, and effectively overtakes Here Alone. The story’s familiarity only reminds us of equally conceptual doomsday flicks, getting caught in Ann’s minimalist nature training and outsider relationships. Zombies are sparsely unleashed during raids on a certain house (which appears to fence them in), and for a horror/thriller, there’s a noticeable lack of danger until the film’s climactic end – which only raises questions as to why more zombies weren’t present earlier? Blackhurst certainly airs on the side of drama, but loses grasp of the viral horrors that are currently reducing Earth to a monster-covered Hell. Some might love this approach – which I’ll admit works at times – but a quick zombie chase doesn’t make up for more weightless moments of personal reflection.
Here Alone does not fail in delivering post-apocalyptic drama through a funneled, focused lens – it just doesn’t establish a thriving danger like similar films of its kind. Lucy Walters bares the weight of David Ebeltoft’s screenplay with admirable grit and isolated acceptance – no arguments there – but it just doesn’t feel like there’s a whole lot going on at times. Survivalists have long been faced with deathly decisions, and we already understand that when you fuck up in a disaster, there’s no second chances (something characters must live with). You have to voice something unique in order for your film to stand out from the pack, and that, unfortunately, is what David Ebeltoft’s script has the most trouble accomplishing.
Here Alone is a sometimes-striking, sometimes-repetitive glimpse into apocalyptic drama that struggles to offer anything new.