This review contains many, many spoilers. You have been warned.
I wrote my first book because I wanted a zombie story where the survival elements were realistic and the main character actually had skills. I’m a bit of a survivalist/bushcraft enthusiast, so I might not be an expert, but in general I know what wilderness survival looks like.
Apparently so did someone involved with this movie. It’s brutal, slow paced, heartbreaking, and incredibly well acted. On the other hand, if you are looking for a light hearted bit of zombie fun, this is not that movie.
Ann is alone. Most of the US (maybe the world, it’s not clear) has succumbed to a plague that leaves the infected violent, mostly mindless, and feasting on human flesh. It’s not a true zombie movie, in that the infected aren’t actually dead and they die like anyone else. The plague is spread via bodily fluid, but ingestion spreads it, as well. Basically, if you get any of their blood anywhere inside your body you are infected. The first symptom is a series of round red circles on your chest or stomach, they develop pustules quickly.
So, that’s the setting. Ann is a survivor, and in the opening scene she is naked and covered in offal, washing it off in a lake. We learn through the next few scenes that the infected track by scent and this is something she thinks helps throw them off.
Ann is not an expert survivalist, but she knows the basics. She’s trying to make it with almost no supplies remaining, having eaten almost everything she had.
There are brief flashbacks. They are not distracting, and establish a lot of what we need to know about Ann to make her story clear. She fled the zombies with her husband and child. Her husband was a skilled woodsman and survivalist, the depopulated area he took her to is where he grew up. He makes frequent trips to get supplies, using the methods we see her use later. He also teaches her trapping, basic woodcraft, firemaking, that sort of skill. He teaches her as much as he can manage before he runs out of luck on one of his hunting runs.
After the husband dies Ann is forced to leave her child alone in their car while she makes a run for supplies. She encounters one of the infected and is forced to kill it up close. She returns to camp to find her daughter crying. She picks up the child and hugs her close, as a parent would. Desperate to console her, to make it all better. She misses the fact that she has blood on her jacket until she looks down at her daughters face.
The child is now infected and Ann is forced to kill her. She does so in the most humane way she can manage, crushing up pills and boiling them into a liquid, using a bit of her own blood for scent since the child is now a carnivore.
The main plot of the movie is about Ann finding a pair of survivors, a young girl and her step father. The pair are headed north, believing the infection has been handled and contained there. There is the occasional radio broadcast heard. It’s in french, which none of the characters understand.
The step father, Chris, is a naturally cheerful and well grounded person, his step daughter is almost silent, but starts learning everything she can from Ann as fast as possible.
There is a creepiness to the relationship between Chris and the girl, a level of closeness that seems to be beyond what is normal in the world right now.
We learn that Chris’s wife became infected and he was forced to kill her, and that he has been alone with the girl since then.
Ann and Chris gradually grow close, and the girl gradually grows angry about this, but hides it.
The ending is stark, and realistic, and brutal. It won’t be what you expect though.
It’s presented in a stark, pared down way. A single camera, handheld, but with skill and craft, is used throughout the movie. It’s used in a way that lends intimacy and directness without being a cheap gimmick. The director seems comfortable with uncomfortable silence, presenting the movie without unneeded dialog or music. The sounds we hear are mostly the sounds of nature with the noises of the infected happening in the background from time to time.
I was captivated by this movie, drawn in from the first moment. There was no point where I detected a wrong beat. The action scenes are full of fear and caution, appropriate to a movie about survival, not action hero scenes.
I had seen a trailer for Here Alone some time ago, and had earmarked it as a must watch, so when it came out on Netflix I jumped at the chance, and I’m glad I did.
If you like thoughtful, realistic, well filmed, well acted horror, this is a great movie for you. If you want something faster paced that provides more of a popcorn feel, well, skip this one.
Traverse Davies is a writer and journalist based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. You can read more of his work at http://dreamtime.logic11.com or sign up for his mailing list and possibly win an autographed copy of his book.