Saturday, August 20, 2016

BCHFF ’16: Here Alone

The zombie horror sub-genre has always been strangely hospitable to social commentary, starting with the granddaddy of them all, George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and continuing through Yeon Sang-ho’s animated-live action duology Seoul Station and Train to Busan. It is a tradition worth exploring before you snidely turn up your nose at it. Frustratingly, director Rod Blackhurst and screenwriter Ebeltoft were so determine to make an anti-zombie zombie film, they made a point of jettisoning everything that conventionally goes with the shuffling hordes, including tacky things like action and suspense. Brace yourself for a lot of staring off into the distance throughout Blackhurst’s Here Alone (trailer here), which screens tomorrow at the 2016 Bruce Campbell Horror Film Festival in Chicago.

When a film is selected by a festival named after Sam Raimi’s crony with the lethal chin, patrons will probably assume it has a certain level of energy and attitude. Unfortunately, both are profoundly lacking here. Instead, Here Alone (also an award-winning selection at this year’s Tribeca) fancies itself more of an existential survivor’s tale, but its insights are either prosaically on-the-nose or rather questionable.

The zombie apocalypse has basically kneecapped human civilization, so Ann has gone native, living rough in the woodlands of upstate New York. She was taught survival skills by her late husband Jason, before the doomsday infection claimed him too. Now she a solitary existence, tormented by guilt over some mysterious tragedy. Oh by the way, did we mention she and Jason also had an infant daughter, who doesn’t seem to be around anymore. You don’t suppose that could be related?

Her days of foraging grubs and berries are interrupted by the arrival of Chris and his bizarrely petulant step-daughter Olivia. As she nurses the wounded man back to full strength, she starts to feel a human connection again. She finds she likes it, but Olivia—not so much. Frankly, this kind of perverse jealousy in the face of apocalyptic horror is pretty familiar by now, yet it never really seems convincing. If ever there is a time to put your feelings aside and get with the collective program, it would be during a zombie uprising. Still, the self-defeating emotions seemed more believable and rawer in a film like Christoph Behl’s The Desert, for example.

Naturally, Here Alone does not show us the zombies until the third act, yet when they finally arrive, they manage to be a let-down. Apparently, Blackhurst found the whole business so distasteful, he skimped on the establishing shots. One minute Ann is handcuffed to a cabinet, they next she is running free as the wind. Regardless how you feel about tick-tock action movie mechanics, that is just sloppy filmmaking.

If you are intrigued by the psychological ramifications of solitary survival, Into the Forest is a much better film. Granted, it does not have any zombies, but that is only slightly less than what you will find in Here Alone. Of course, it is possible to make a brooding, revisionist zombie movie. Henry Hobson’s Maggie (starring Schwarzenegger) is an excellent film and Sabu’s Miss Zombie is one of his masterworks—perhaps even a flat out masterpiece. In contrast, Here Alone expects originality points it does not deserve for merely sulking in the woods. Not recommended, Here Alone screens tomorrow (8/21) at the Bruce Campbell Horror Film Festival.