Review: You Are Not Alone
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Mark Iveson checks out what it feels like to be stalked in thriller You Are Not Alone...
Ever since the overrated phenomena that was The Blair Witch Project (1999), low budget horror filmmakers have capitalised on the increasing use of modern and now easily accessible technology to add a different slant to the genre; The lack of money being a probable factor in the making of these films, but at least it gives them a documentary style lacking in more mainstream efforts.
But it is fair to say that the bulk of the films produced by these budding Camcorder Coppelas are nothing short of dire. And for my own personal point of view, I do not care for this type of filmmaking. Cloverfield (2008) gave me a headache and George Romero’s Diary of the Dead (2007) falls way short of being good. Let’s face it, if you are being menaced by a zombie, and alien or a serial killer, would you really lug around a camera and film his/her/it’s every move, or do you say ‘sod it,’ throw the camera away and run?
On saying that both the Spanish film Rec (2007) and the Hollywood remake Quarantine (2008) are pretty effective. Both films illustrate that it is possible, with the right approach, to produce a halfway decent effort; Unfriended (2014) (which I haven’t seen) takes the idea to another level with social media.
Following the warm critical response for his debut feature Desolation Witness (2011), Derek Munger a talented independent director, opted for this approach with his latest horror flick. The question is will it work?
Voted Kickstarter Project of the Week, You Are Not Alone is shot from a first person perspective as we see everything through the eyes of Natalie (Krista Dzialoszynski, who, not surprisingly, doubles up as camera operator). Now this concept is not a new one. Robert Montgomery filmed the Philip Marlow thriller The Lady in the Lake (1947) in much the same way. It was a good try but the film was universally disliked on its release and is now viewed pretty much as a curiosity piece. However with the first person perspective being used in computer games and music videos, the modern audience would respond better to it. At least Natalie doesn’t have to chuck her camera away while being chased by a loony!
The plot is pretty much grounded in the seventies stalk and slash genre. College student Natalie returns to her hometown for the Independence Day weekend. She meets up with family and friends, watches the celebrations and goes to a few parties. However, the police have ordered a curfew in the town because a serial killer has escaped from the nearby funny farm. It is only when Natalie stumbles home that her life is going to take an unpleasant turn for the worse as the killer in question is out to get her.
Mungor certainly knows how to create atmosphere and You Are Not Alone has atmosphere in abundance. The seemingly harmless celebrations have a sense of unease that helps build up the tension. Even Natalie seems detached from everyone and everything around her, as if she’s not part of the town – much like the heroine in Carnival of Souls (1962). The economy of the production gives the film an added claustrophobic edge as Natalie’s nightmare evening gets worse.
Sadly the film works up to a point. Using the first person narrative restricts both plot and character development, and with other films in the same style, it’s difficult to sustain the tension for the 97 minute running time.
Perhaps the biggest fault is being unable to see Natalie – even in a mirror, which at least Robert Montgomery did in The Lady in the Lake. Perhaps that was the intention of the filmmakers to make Natalie faceless so we can only see her view point. But because we have no idea what she looks like other than her legs, its hard for the viewer to engage with her despite Dzialosynski’s excellent vocal performance. Sure we want her to escape, but as we don’t really know her well enough to care. This gives the proceedings a jaded air.
Also seeing Natalie’s face going through the fear of being stalked helps the viewer identify with the emotional trauma. We need that kind of emotion to make the film work. I suppose it’s down to whoever is watching it but for me, I needed to see Natalie and to get to know her as a person. It just doesn’t happen here. Acting is as much about facial emotion as it is vocal emotion.
I also have a problem with the actual killer, not because he doesn’t wear a hockey or Halloween mask (he looks normal, which is good), but his reasons for stalking Natalie; he only kills people who get in the way of his victim. He calls her name out, indicating that he knows her, but this is never explained. Perhaps with the first person narrative we are not supposed to know but I found that a little annoying.
You Are Not Alone is an interesting variation on the stalk and slash horror film. It effectively combines the old style maniac on the loose with the new style of low budget filmmaking. However, despite several effective moments and the solid work from all concerned, it doesn’t quite come off. It’s a case of the film being a triumph of style and technical efficiency over content and execution.
Produced by the independent outfit Sharp Teeth Films, which specialise in more unusual low budget documentaries and features, the film will be out on DVD on 22 February 2016. It’s certainly worth watching but not for all tastes.
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