Much as cinema’s zombies have evolved from creatures of voodoo to patients of infection, and from slow shufflers to fast ragers, zombie films themselves have adopted many forms – and while, in one way or another, this most sociopolitical of subgenres has always been about us, those that focus on the psychology of survival (and survivor’s guilt) tend to hit home the hardest. So it is that Rod Blackhurst’s feature debut Here Alone, much like Kerry Anne Mullaney’s The Dead Outside (2008), Adam Bartlett and John Pata’s Dead Weight (2012), Christoph Behl’s The Desert (2013), Ben Wagner’s Dead Within (2014) and Henry Hobson’s Maggie (2015), uses its zombie frame to examine the possibility – or impossibility – of living with, and moving on from, the mortality of loved ones.
There certainly are zombie-like aggressors in Here Alone – once-human creatures reduced by a pandemic virus to bestial bloodlust – but it is also a good long time into the duration before we even see the undead, as the film, in keeping with its title, takes for its focus the isolated existence of Ann (Lucy Walters). Subsisting on ever-diminishing rations, berries and grubs in a lakeside forest, and only occasionally seeking shelter from rain in the family car (with its still half-full tank), Ann has only her haunting memories of husband Jason (Shane West) and their baby daughter to keep her company. The sylvan setting might seem an idyll – not least for the way that DP Adam McDaid’s lens keeps capturing it in lyrical wide shots (in which Ann cuts a tiny and alienated figure) – but our heroine, far from leading an Edenic existence, is slowly starving and running on empty. Ann’s habit of covering herself in dung and urine, though necessary for throwing the infected off her scent, also graphically illustrates her own personal degeneration. Ann is – both literally and metaphorically – in the shit, and it will take more than just a dip in the lake to purge the guilt, shame and anguish that clings to her flesh.
On her way back from a provisioning expedition, Ann stumbles upon adolescent Olivia (Gina Piersanti) and her stepdad – not father, as ‘Liv’ insists – Chris (Adam David Thompson). Chris is physically injured, but there are also deep domestic wounds, similar to Ann’s own, afflicting both newcomers. Chris wants to keep heading North, but as a brief stay while he recovers his strength turns into a longer one, the three form something like a menage – and Ann must decide whether to go with them, or to stay alone with her grief and loss. A harrowing climax will reveal that Ann is not the only one making critical choices whose consequences will ramify into an already bleak-looking future.
While mainstream cinematic narrative tends towards redemption, forgiveness and hope, Here Alone merely flirts with those prospects, before muddying their waters with the blunt, recurring nature of trauma. This is horror of a very human kind, triangulating upon a savage dog-eat-dog monstrousness within.
© Anton Bitel