All Alone Together

All Alone Together (2023)

All Alone Together seen at Panic Fest 

Tightly wound, temper-prone Tyler (Jordan Lane Rice) eats and drinks alone, and mourns his recently killed dog. Tyler is taunted in the office by his colleague Fiona (Lisa Starrett) who, abusive, cruel and manipulative, and separated, even compartmentalised, from him by a cubicle, is like a negative voice inside his head; and he is also haunted at home by a Thing (Brandon Whipple) that watches and pursues him, eventually killing him. As we see Tyler’s bloody body lying on the basement floor, there is a round of applause, and the Academy ratio presentation gives way to wide screen as we realise that we are not just watching Maximus Jenkins’ feature debut All Alone Together, but also a film-within-a-film, the première of Accompany (or is it A Company? we only ever hear the title, and both seem apt), whose first-time writer/director Lincoln Arreto (played by All Alone Together’s debuting writer Alex Nimrod) sits stony-faced at the back.  

In other words, All Alone Together promises, right from its prologue, to be all at once a closely observed psychodrama about a damaged man succumbing to his own paranoia, trauma and guilt (all of which assume a monstrous physical manifestation), and a sophisticatedly reflexive piece about the cathartic process of movie-making itself. Lincoln Arreto – whose very initials encode not only his address, but the heart of cinema in America – is both like and unlike his film’s protagonist Tyler. Certainly there are parallels between them, emphasised by occasional match cuts to Tyler, superimposing Lincoln’s film on his life. Lincoln’s phone has a screenshot of his own long-gone pet dog, he too is still grieving (in his case the deaths, years earlier, of his parents in a car accident), he also feels as though he is being watched, and he has his own monster (Devin Harris) haunting him – and while he does not live alone, but rather with his best friend George (Trevor VanAuken), their different work schedules, and George’s openly antagonistic girlfriend Regina (Lexi Minetree), mean that introverted, oddball Lincoln spends too much time in his own company. His only other friend is Thomas (Jacob Childress), a 13-year-old boy whom Lincoln sees while working nightshifts at the local junior high school, and who still shows all the enthusiasm and promise that Lincoln himself has long since lost.  

Struggling both to sell Accompany and to make progress on his next script, Lincoln is in a rut, but longs for change – and so he reaches out to an agent, Sloane (Elizabeth Hadjinian), to manage his film affairs, to shake things up and get things moving. Yet once Sloane gets to work in the background, awkward, monosyllabic Lincoln will repeatedly prove his own worst enemy, undermining her every effort to advance his profile and career. When two interested distributors (Eric Eberle, Callie Skopelitis) observe that Lincoln’s film is about “a troubled, broken man” and addresses “mental health awareness”, Lincoln rejects this idea outright, insisting that Tyler is not “sick” and that the monstrous intruder kills him out of “revenge”, punishing Tyler’s inability to do things differently. It is almost as though Lincoln is incapable of acknowledging what is perfectly obvious to everyone else about his film’s protagonist. Later, when TV chat host Serenity (Janina Colucci) suggests that Lincoln must have put a lot of himself into the character of Tyler, Lincoln curtly denies this outright, even though his own bizarre behaviour in the television studio serves only to demonstrate his similarity to Tyler.  Of course, all this commentary on Accompany is also metacommentary on All Alone Together, as we see simultaneously how Lincoln looks to himself (normal, plagued by voices and monsters that are all too real) and to others (troubled, mentally ill). 

This is a man’s unravelling shown from both the inside and the outside, like Lodge Kerrigan’s subjectified Clean, Shaven (1993) and objectified Keane (2004) cut together into one  – and even as Lincoln himself starts to grasp that some, perhaps even all, of his experiences are not real, the viewer too has to work hard to distinguish what is actually happening from what is unfolding only in Lincoln’s head. Does he have a job at the school? Is he even a filmmaker? Which of the people around him are merely imaginary? And is Accompany, whether a real film or a figment, just Lincoln’s way of processing his issues and working through a traumatic past that he struggles to put behind him, or is it a template for his own prescribed fate from beginning to bloody, bitter end? Jenkins and Nimrod keep these questions open – and much as Lincoln himself always insists that he is “alright” or “fine” when he clearly is not, the film’s final image and text vividly demonstrate the importance of looking beyond the surface and reading between the lines.

With a contradictory title that captures the internal conflicts of its paranoid schizophrenic antihero, All Alone Together is a smart, harrowing portrait of the artist as a young man – and as his own elusive subject – on a self-destructive descent. Owing to the labyrinthine hall of mirrors established here between character and creator in this echoing metacinematic edifice, you may leave worrying – and hoping – that writer/star Nimrod too is ok, although the very existence of the film weighs the evidence in favour of optimism. What a strong calling card!

strap: In Maximus Jenkins’ metacinematic psychodrama, a damaged young filmmaker simultaneously denies and flees reality

© Anton Bitel