Here Alone premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2016 and saw a limited theatrical run the following year. It’s a well-made post-apocalyptic drama about Ann (Lucy Walters), a woman surviving in a remote forest after the world goes to hell due to a virus that turns people into ravenous monsters. For comparison, the infected are more like 28 Days Later than George A. Romero. We see Ann’s day-to-day mixed with flashbacks to the beginning of the end of civilization, when she, her late husband Jason (Shane West) and their infant daughter hightailed it into the wilderness to avoid contagion. Soon she meets two other survivors — Chris (Adam David Thompson) and his daughter Olivia (Gina Piersanti). Can she trust them, these interlopers in her solitude?
Nothing much sets Here Alone apart from the rest of its genre. The sparseness of the environment — filmed beautifully by director Rod Blackhurst — is unfortunately mirrored in the hollowness of its story. We’re about five years out from the high point of the zombie / survivalist apocalypse fad, which was receding in the horror space well before a real-life pandemic rendered the concept unpalatable. (I’ll admit it’s hard to separate now.) The decade or so in which that genre reigned supreme really beat the “what if you were alone and you had to make tough choices about the life of your family” scenario into the collective American subconscious, which means a story without much more than that emotional foundation faces a difficult time proving what sets it apart. There simply isn’t much here, a problem exemplified by the core horror question at the center: What happened to Ann’s infant daughter? It’s clear infanticide of some kind is on the table in the flashback story, but the film drags out that question to a narrative breaking point. By the time the reveal happens, it’s certainly sad, but the beat has been so drawn out that it feels melodramatic. Sorta more late-stage The Walking Dead than The Road.
That is not to say Here Alone lacks merit. Tonally, the direction and performances are all pretty top-notch for a small-budget version of this story. Walters is particularly good, and her emotional work always feels like it belongs in a slightly more interesting film. Her facade finally breaks towards the end, and when it does, it feels like a moment that belongs in a movie with a little more intensity. Thompson and Piersanti, too, work well as a pair of strangers who we don’t initially trust.
The setting is shot with the foreboding and respect it deserves. Too many independent dramas set in the woods feel like a few actors and a camera hanging out in someone’s backyard or a few miles into the local national forest. The kitsch can work, but dramatic storytelling benefits from a dramatic, memorable setting. There is never a moment where Here Alone feels cheap or slapdash. Although the story has structural issues that undercut the emotional story, it’s still a visually engaging piece of filmmaking. It’s just missing that something special to set itself apart from every other apocalyptic survivor story.