×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Sundance Film Festival: ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’

Peter Dinklage and Elle Fanning make misfit friends in a post-apocalyptic drama about the compromises of companionship.

Director:
Reed Morano
With:
Peter Dinklage, Elle Fanning

1 hour 33 minutes

“I Think We’re Alone Now,” Reed Morano’s handsome, heavily-underlined treatise on solitude, opens on a post-apocalyptic town near the Hudson River. Tattered flags, that favorite symbol of failed Americana, droop on the empty Main St. of this new ghost town. And here comes its sheriff, an ex-librarian named Del (Peter Dinklage, straight-shouldered and stable) who is the sole survivor of the sudden something-or-other that wiped out the 1,600 people in his hamlet, and presumably, everyone else in the world. Enter teenage-ish Grace (Elle Fanning) with a car full of M-80s and a handgun in the backseat to detonate Del’s civilized society-of-one — though the fireworks she lights on her first night set a high bar for beauty and emotional impact that the film never manages to top.

Del is fine on his own. He felt more alone before his neighbors died off: a small, serious man surrounded by 1,599 other residents who treated him like a misfit. Now, he spends his days like a bacteria stripping the town to its bones. He politely breaks into each home, harvests batteries from clocks and electric toothbrushes, cleans out rotting refrigerators, wraps up corpses, and drives the mummifying bodies out for burial. His makeshift cemetery is so crowded with round-topped graves, a skier could use it as mogul practice. To be honest, Del makes the apocalypse look pleasant. A self-contained man with a small ecological footprint, he could live forever on his stash of wine, fresh fish, and books. When he turns on a movie, he selects a silent Harold Lloyd.

Extermination of mankind aside, audiences know this feeling. It’s the period after a break-up, when the mourning has passed and the emptiness has been refilled with an adamant independence. People in this phase tend to proselytize about the joys of sprawling across the bed and planning each night exactly how they want. Why make room for another person who will throw life off-balance?

Del would rather enjoy his freedoms. But Grace doesn’t give him a choice. Instead of obeying his command to leave, she follows him home, drinks his wine, and mis-shelves his books. Her loud mouth and baggy sweaters take up an enormous amount of space. In a town this still, the sound of her car reverberates for a mile. Later, the thud-thud of footsteps coming from downstairs has the same rhythm of a heartbeat.

To Morano, a cinematographer-turned-director who helmed several episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale, and screenwriter Mike Makowsky, this two-person dystopia is about the compromises in forming a community. The only perfect democracy has one voter, which makes it technically a dictatorship. Morano’s favorite type of shot positions one character in the center of the frame surrounded by empty space they’re unwilling to share. Dinklage and Fanning are rarely shown together, a much smarter visual choice than her thudding close-ups of the books “See You in Hell” and “Love in the Time of Cholera.”

Is this a romance? A little. Grace sets the tone in their first interaction when Del attempts to send her away. “You’re telling me you’re totally fine letting the human race go extinct?” she asks. It’s a challenge, or an invitation, or both. With Fanning, it’s hard to tell. She delivers all her lines in the flat affectlessness of a bored teen. The script makes her announce theories that could have gone unsaid. There’s a lovely moment when she breaks into Del’s filing cabinets and discovers he’s made a card catalogue index of every person in town. As she flips through the photos, the voices of the dead echo in overlapping waves — so much life wanting to be heard. But the spell is broken when Grace brandishes the photos in an argument with Del and announces the obvious: “People are objects to you.”

Well, naturally. A librarian would see himself as the last man standing in Ephesus, an archivist responsible for preserving knowledge before it’s lost. We see him flip through the deceased like flashcards, quizzing himself on names and hobbies. In the home of a dead woman, he snips that she owes $700 for an overdue copy of “War & Peace” that must be returned to the shelves. His irritation feels like a jokey off-beat. But despite the bad line, Morano doesn’t undermine his quest — even though the film never questions the point.

Once “I Think We’re Alone Now” establishes that Grace and Del represent love versus stability, the film doesn’t have a convincing way to reconcile the two. An adorable violin-accompanied montage doesn’t sell us on their partnership. A scene where they cruise blasting metal as Fanning head-bangs in slo-mo just seems like a beautifully photographed migraine. Better is a bit where they build a solar panel, a symbol of how people accomplish things as a team that they’d never bother to do alone.

Eventually, the film throws up its hands, declares their bond a given, and shifts into a subplot that only superficially pulls its themes together. Would Del’s life be more content if Grace had never lit up his sky? The strongest argument in support of their discordant connection is a moment when Del allows Grace to share his grief. Good food, and good feelings, can be savored alone. But in bad times, others help shoulder the burden.

Sundance Film Festival: 'I Think We're Alone Now'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 21, 2018. Running time: 93 MIN.

Production: An Automatik Entertainment presentation of an Estuary Films, Exhibit production, in association with Opposite Field Pictures. (International sales: Endeavor/Global Road, Los Angeles.) Producers: Fred Berger, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Fernando Loureiro, Roberto Vasconcellos, Peter Dinklage, Mike Makowsky. Co-producer: Ged Dickersin. Executive producers: David Ginsberg, Felipe Prado, João Prado.

Crew: Director: Reed Morano. Screenwriter: Mike Makowsky. Camera (color): Morano. Editor: Madeleine Gavin. Music: Adam Taylor.

With: Peter Dinklage, Elle Fanning, Paul Giamatti, Charlotte Gainsbourg.

More Film

  • Steve Bannon appears in The Brink

    Sundance Film Review: Stephen K. Bannon in 'The Brink'

    Stephen K. Bannon drinks Kombucha (who knew?), the fermented tea beverage for health fanatics that tastes like…well, if they ever invented a soft drink called Germs, that’s what Kombucha tastes like. In “The Brink,” Alison Klayman’s fly-on-the-wall, rise-and-fall-and-rise-of-a-white-nationalist documentary, Bannon explains that he likes Kombucha because it gives him a lift; he drinks it for [...]

  • Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith

    Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith Dies at 78

    Walt Disney Archives founder Dave Smith, the historian who spent 40 years cataloging and preserving the company’s legacy of entertainment and innovation, died Friday in Burbank, Calif. He was 78. Smith served as Disney’s chief archivist from 1970 to 2010. He was named a Disney Legend in 2007 and served as a consultant to the [...]

  • Oscar OScars Placeholder

    Cinematographers Praise Academy Reversal: 'We Thank You for Your Show of Respect'

    Cinematographers who fought the decision to curtail four Oscar presentations have praised the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for reversing the exclusions. “We thank you for your show of respect for the hard-working members of the film community, whose dedication and exceptional talents deserve the public recognition this reversal now allows them to enjoy,” [...]

  • Peter Parker and Miles Morales in

    'Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse' Colored Outside the Lines

    The well-worn superhero genre and one of its best-known icons are unlikely vehicles for creating a visually fresh animated feature. But Sony Pictures Animation’s work on the Oscar-nominated animated feature “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” shows throwing out the rule book and letting everyone play in the creative sandbox can pay off big. “I think we [...]

  • Denis Villeneuve

    Denis Villeneuve's 'Dune' Gets November 2020 Release Date

    Warner Bros. has scheduled Legendary’s science-fiction tentpole “Dune” for a Nov. 20, 2020, release in 3D and Imax. “Aquaman” star Jason Momoa is in negotiations to join the “Dune” reboot with Timothee Chalamet, Javier Bardem, Rebecca Ferguson, Stellan Skarsgard, Dave Bautista, Josh Brolin, Oscar Isaac, and Zendaya. Production is expected to launch in the spring [...]

  • James Bond Spectre

    Bond 25 Moved Back Two Months to April 2020

    James Bond will arrive two months later than planned as MGM moved back the release date on the untitled Bond 25 movie from Feb. 14 to April 8, 2020 — a Wednesday before the start of Easter weekend. It’s the second delay for Bond 25. MGM and Eon originally announced in 2017 that the film [...]

  • Fast and Furious 8

    'Fast and Furious 9' Release Date Pushed Back Six Weeks

    Universal Pictures has shifted “Fast and Furious 9” back six weeks from April 10 to May 22, 2020 — the start of the Memorial Day weekend. It’s the second backwards shift for the title. In 2017, Universal moved the film back a year from April 19, 2019, to April 10, 2020. Both dates fall on [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content