Monday 17 February 2014

Alone (2013)

Director: Anthony R Pisano
Stars: Jonathan J Joyce, Tammy Drewett, Anthony Harrell, Scot Haskins and Spencer Haskins
This film was an official selection at the Jerome Indie Music & Film Festival in Jerome, AZ in 2013. Here's an index to my reviews of 2013 films.
Regular readers at Apocalypse Later will know that I'm emphatically not a fan of handheld footage. It's not that the technique doesn't have a place and it's not that there aren't decent shakycam pictures out there; it's that they tend to give me motion sickness and I have to watch them in my peripheral vision, hardly the best way to experience a movie. It's also that many (though not all) microbudget filmmakers haul out the technique not because it's the appropriate one for their story, but because it's cheap and it excuses them from doing all the things filmmakers have to do to make their movies look good. This film from the Scottsdale Community College Film School fortunately avoids most of the usual problems. For one, it runs a mere three minutes and that includes the end credits. It's also really not a horror picture, where the concept has been overused; it's more of an experimental science fiction piece. It maintains internal consistency because we're never quite sure what's happening, so have to figure it out.

And I'm not sure I've quite got there yet, but there are a few facts to base our interpretations on. What we see is a man running around at night and, for the most part, we see things from his perspective. He tries to avoid all the normal people, who stand still in some sort of somnambulist state doing precisely nothing. He especially tries to avoid the strange folk in white masks who keep popping up wherever he least expects, folk who are certainly not oblivious to his presence in their midst. He finds a hiding place, but is eventually caught, only to escape again and again. We have no idea who this man is, where he is or why he's there. We have no idea who any of the other people are either, as there isn't a framework for us to build on. There's also no resolution, which is why I can theorise without any fear of providing spoilers; this is emphatically a film to watch half a dozen times with thoughtful company to see if you can understand what it's trying to tell us. Maybe it isn't telling us anything.
The initial feeling is that the man is fleeing someone or something. He avoids everyone he meets and hides out in a bathroom. However, the white masks are right there, so they know exactly where he is; yet they let him be, suggesting that they're not pursuing him, merely herding him. It's notable that his second attempt to flee, having been caught and subdued but apparently left alone, follows exactly the same path as the first, including some of the same movements. Maybe he's participating in some kind of experiment and they're merely tracking their subject. The play with masks suggests a riff on the last episode of The Prisoner, where this unnamed man discovers that he's one of the very people that he's so keen to run away from. That would be the obvious psychiatric interpretation. It could be a recurring nightmare that explores that fear of being what he fears the most. There's certainly a lot of possibility for something that's only three minutes long. That's a plus.

Another plus is the style that director Anthony R Pisano and his crew conjure up. The concept of using masks may be a story element, but it's a visual one too. The first man in a mask we see is entering a room from the dark outside, which makes him look like a disembodied head for a moment. Positioning actors in patterns is a little freaky too, especially with the masks potentially doing the choreography. It reaches into our minds and triggers a surprising amount of reactions for something so short and vague. I also enjoyed the sound design, which sets up what could easily be listened to as dark ambient music. It's a combination of weird whispering, high pitched drones and a well timed tolling bell. The heartbeat that bookends the piece feels appropriate, as is the minimal theme by Jason McNeil that accompanies the end credits. I'm not going to pretend that I've figured this out yet but it did make me think and it's still doing that. I can even forgive the handheld footage. That must say something.

Alone can be viewed for free on YouTube.

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