You can generally tell how seriously a zombie movie takes itself by how much it uses the Z word — and you know “Here Alone” takes itself very seriously indeed, because that word is never mentioned at all. A surprisingly sober entry in the Tribeca film fest’s midnight section, and even more surprising winner of its narrative feature audience award, this stripped-down survivalist drama about a woman carrying on after a virus has killed and/or zombified most of humanity is probably too low on conventional action to satisfy mainstream horror fans. But critical support could propel it into niche theatrical release, with specialized home-format sales more of a given.
At the outset, Ann (Lucy Walters) is conspicuously alone, living in a well-camouflaged campsite in an upstate New York forest. But flashbacks soon show her an unknown amount of time earlier, fleeing her home with husband Jason (Shane West) and their infant daughter as gunshots fire in the distance and the radio reports a deadly, widespread viral infection. It takes David Ebeltoft’s screenplay quite a while to reveal just what happened to Ann’s loved ones. But there are no prizes for guessing she’s now the family’s sole survivor.
Having grown up in these woods, where Jason trained her in wilderness survival basics, the family apparently had enough warning about the crisis to prepare as well as could be managed, with camping supplies, some long-shelf-life food and a gun packed into the car that now sits idle next to her tent. Nonetheless, Ann must hazard occasional runs to nearby houses, looking for canned goods. Though we don’t actually see a zombie until more than an hour in, we do hear them screeching in the distance — and know they’re agitated by the smell of blood, which Ann uses to waylay them while she’s busy raiding a no longer inhabited farmhouse for supplies.
After one such trek she hears people — living people — and cautiously approaches teenage Olivia (Gina Piersanti), found hobbling along a country road supporting head-wounded stepfather Chris (Adam David Thompson). Having determined neither are infected, Ann takes them in, letting Chris recoup. The newcomers don’t seem entirely trustworthy, casting a possibly covetous eye toward their benefactress’ survival-odds-heightening possessions. The group plans to go north (Ann’s hand-cranked shortwave radio supports hopes that some normal life may remain in Quebec), and her automobile sure would come in handy. Yet the conflict that eventually, fatefully arises between these three is different in nature, and has more to do with timeless human emotions of jealousy and desire. (Hint: Mixing volatile teenage emotions with rampaging-zombie risk can be hazardous to everyone’s health.)
Though there’s not a whole lot of plot here, Ebeltoft makes a virtue of writing economy, and director Rod Blackhurt (a “Funny or Die” regular making his narrative feature debut) maintains considerable interest as well as a consistent low hum of tension. The performers are all credible as ordinary, fallible folk who’ve managed to survive a plague (so far) through sheer luck as much as anything; no one here is larger-than-life.
Adam McDaid’s handsome widescreen photography of the almost entirely outdoor locations and Eric D. Johnson’s edgy, melancholy score highlight a sharp overall assembly.