YOU ARE NOT ALONE
Firstly, I just want to say a huge thank-you to Co-writer and Director of the first person home invasion/thriller “You Are Not Alone”, for allowing me early access to an online screener. You Are Not Alone is about a young college graduate named Natalie (played by Krista Dzialoszynski), whose visiting her hometown of Walnut, Illinois for the 4th of July festivities. After leaving a local party earlier than her friends, she is stalked by a psychotic killer. The film also stars David O’Brien, Keenan Camp, Nikki Pierce and Eric Wood. Those of you who know me pretty well, know that I’m a sucker for a good home invasion flick. This one is yet to have finalized a distribution deal, and I’ve been following it for about a year, so I’m stoked I got the chance to see it early. This is just Derek’s second venture into film-making and I believe it’s his first time directing solo, so well done. This has an estimated budget of $20,000. So how does it stack up against similar films in the genre? Read on and find out.
It’s not just the premise of the film that got me immediately intrigued. Sure, I like to see masked invaders taunting people in what supposed to be the environment they feel the safest, but it’s more about experiencing a certain feeling, or a rush than it is for shock value. This poster reminds me a lot of “The Purge” (another one of my favorite films), I think it’s the fact that this film takes place in the nights leading up to Independence day. It’s such a huge event for all Americans, and it’s the time you’d least expect violent crimes to be taking place. As a rule, everyone is out to celebrate this common goal. Combine this setting and genre, with the promise of the entire thing being told from the POV (point of view) of the victim, and that’s going to sell audiences. I’m not going on record and saying this is the first fully POV shot film, because I don’t know that for a fact. However, it’s definitely the first one I’ve ever seen and it’s the perfect artistic choice for a film like this. It opens with a cool eerie intro theme, while a female voice on the end of an emergency call claims she’s being followed by someone. Before emergency services can trace the call or get any details, a long scream is heard and then nothing…. Once again, I think of a little nod to The Purge (whether that be directly or indirectly). Very creepy way to start off a film that then picks up instantaneously with Natalie, as she arrives home at the airport.
The audio in this one is nice and clear. It’s relatively consistent too, considering I don’t think any filters were used and it was just the audio channel from the POV camera being recorded. I know a lot of viewers probably think of this style of film being like “The Blair Witch Project” or “Paranormal Activity”, this one isn’t like those. There are vast, albeit small differences between films shot with handy cams, versus the element of “found footage” (where you watch events that have already taken place), versus point of view. Picture someone attaching a camera to your chest or head, or anywhere for that matter, and that’s the footage the crew ends up working with, it’s very unique but not easily done. I thought some of the shot choices were incredibly smart. Most of the camera work is just really solid, simple and effective when combined with the silky smooth editing we get here. Aside from a few times that Natalie panics, and the camera gets a little bit erratic it’s all very well done. It’s the claustrophobic house that becomes the main location and focal point in the second half of the film. The town is the pinnacle of middle America suburbia. It feels quite and safe, a good place to raise kids. So when shit hits the fan, it has much more of an impact than if it was in a big city.
The atmospheric and delayed guitar score, mixed with some disturbing sound effects helped maintain that palpable tension required for a film like this to really work. I also respected the choice to keep the color saturation, mellow and very natural along with the decision to faintly light those rooms in the house. Most of the supporting cast play old high school friends of Natalie’s and they do a solid job. Although, I got a bit confused at the beginning as to who Garrett was (played by David O’Brien). When he comes to pick Nat up from the airport, I was thinking is this her Boyfriend? But It’s revealed in the first act that Natalie has had some problems, with either the current or ex boyfriend (not too sure which it was). So I figured Garrett was just a friend. It’s without any real warning that he exits the fold, and doesn’t return for a fair portion of the film. Then enter Katie (Pierce) and Miles (Camp), who it’s safe to say were both good friends of Nat’s and or still are, but they all live in different cities now. The secondary characters have a moment or two to make an impression, but the film’s success rests heavily on the shoulders of Krista and she comes up with the goods. One thing viewers need to know is that You Are Not Alone is all about the suspense. It’s got traces of Bryan Bertino’s “The Strangers”, as well as some Hitchcockian roots in a Purge setting (haha). Those of you looking for bloodshed (which is often me), are best to look elsewhere. In the second half of the film things start getting very intense. Derek has no qualms about lingering on a shot, almost to the point of losing you, in order to get that extra second of feeling insecure. The brilliant part is that he doesn’t lose you. He knows just how far to take it, when to hold back and when to hit you with a scare. The fact that all this nervousness washes over you as Natalie looks out the blinds for up to 2 or 3 minutes at a time, without the typical 3 note piano theme playing in the background (which I usually love might I add), is genius.
From a technical point of view (pardon the pun), I can’t fault this one. Most of my reservations come from a few holes in the script, and reactions to certain plot points. I think I could do with a second viewing of this, so as to focus a little bit more on clarity when it comes to the development of the relationships between the main three or four characters. I think I was too busy waiting to be scared, that some of those finer points got lost in translation. When it came to some of the minor cast members such as Katie’s dad, the lines of dialogue felt a little bit forced. Fortunately they weren’t crucial to the overall believability of the story. However, there were at least three issues I could see that were in direct relation, and became a hindrance to the films credibility. The big one is that everybody in this town knows there’s a killer on the loose. It’s been on the television, in the media and all over the newspapers, yet not one of Natalie’s friends offer to give her a lift home when she wants to leave the party. It’s heading towards midnight, in a small town, where everyone is out celebrating, Surely you’d at least offer? I know the movie doesn’t work the same way if a friend goes home with her, but it’s not that difficult to write a twist that changes the direction so the friends doesn’t make it back or something, rather than not include a logical choice for said character to make.
Moreover, Natalie doesn’t scream at all. She doesn’t seem overly worried that this psycho is trying to kill her (for some unknown reason). If memory serves me correctly, she doesn’t scream until she starts to get away, almost like she knew he was going to come for her. Now that would be okay if he drugged her, or taped her mouth shut, or did basically any number of various things to stop her from screaming but he didn’t. Not to mention, when she finally does start going door to door nobody hears her. Either that or no one’s home. I understand that most of the town would probably be out celebrating, but surely someone would come to her aid (well I guess they kind of do). Plus if you write that extra scene, it leaves room to kill off another character which is always fun for the audience (just a thought). Making matters a little worse, is that at one point the mystery man rests his knife on Natalie’s knee. Uh duh! It’s like dude, don’t you watch scary movies? Haven’t you read the book being a psychopath 101? You don’t do that shit (haha). I’ll quickly touch on the mask, which is not on the above poster (but a previous one). It seemed to me like a cool little nod to the previously mentioned “Strangers”. I was hoping to see more of it than I actually did. At first I thought it was just a promotional thing, because unless you watch carefully in a couple of the scenes where it gets used, you’ll miss it. After chatting with Derek and gaining a little more information, I’ll say that small scene eluding to the killer was a nice touch.
The biggest drawback with You Are Not Alone is its slow burn nature. By that, I don’t necessarily mean the time it takes to build to the climax (each to their own). I’m talking about a lot of dissertation and fluff references to past events that hold no real bearing on anything in the film. The first 40 minutes is essentially filler. Unnecessary filler that drags on and on and feels like a chore to sit through. The dialogue is quite dull, there’s some attempt at being profound about life, all the while getting stoned and talking more about some high school memories. It just didn’t do anything for me, it didn’t help me understand anything more about the characters or their place in the film. If the first half was more about the killer, or his stalking and the build up to the finale it would have been an even better film than it already is. Maybe the inclusion of a couple of scenes of the killer doing some investigating, casing the home, just a lot more creeping about. After all, that’s where the film is strongest.
You Are Not Alone isn’t a perfect film, but I always try to look for the positives, and here I didn’t have to look far. Technically this is brilliant. Subtle and creepy sound effects in all the right places, awesome shot choices, smooth editing and great mood lighting. The suspense in the second half is unbelievable, edge of your seat stuff. I was watching this one on my own, after midnight and I had to go visit the family straight after. It’s not that it’s that scary, the notion of it is just creepy and disturbing. A true testament of a great Suspense/Horror film, Hitch would be proud. The acting is pure and the killer does a great job too. I haven’t seen a film in the genre this good since “Home Sweet Home” or “388 Arletta Avenue”. I was still left a little disappointed, but only because if not for a lot of redundant dialogue and interaction between characters that never appear again, this would be a masterpiece. Even 20 minutes of that introduction would have sufficed, but 40 is just way too long. None the less, I’m all for these types of films and this one’s as good as anything I’ve seen. I hope Derek continues making these types of films, great work.
My rating for “You Are Not Alone” is 7/10