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Review: I Think We’re Alone Now – “An affecting reflection on loneliness, grief, loss and the complex nature of the human heart”

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If the devil is in the details when it comes to great filmmaking, I Think We’re Alone Now proves once again that Reed Morano has buckets of talent to share. After winning the Special Jury Prize for Excellence in Filmmaking at the latest Sundance Film Festival, this post-apocalyptic indie drama, led by the wondrous and multi-Emmy winner Peter Dinklage, finally arrives across the pond. It’s a shame though that the film is only being distributed on VoD here in the UK.

Even if the screenplay stumbles midway through, as it rushes into a muddled third act, Morano’s visionary style and the amazing cast she’s gathered up for the occasion deserved to be enjoyed on the silver screen, especially given the filmmaker’s astounding use of cinematography and sound, which as usual in her work make for an engrossing cinematic journey of the senses.

Minor spoilers ahead.

Mike Makoswky’s script starts off on the right foot, setting the stage in a powerful understated way through an efficient show-don’t-tell character introduction of our protagonist, Del (Dinklage). This solitary man – who may as well be the last survivor of an unspecified catastrophe that’s annihilated the human race – spends his days in the small American town he’s from, burying the dead, cleaning their homes and stocking provisions.

Del has set up camp in the town library where he used to work night shifts and he continues to archive books whenever he finds any. If he’s not working or scavenging for batteries, you’ll find him fishing in the nearby lake or watching old films and he seems pretty content with the pace of his current life. One day though his quiet routine is abruptly interrupted by the far-off noise of a car’s honk stuck on a loop. As he goes off to cautiously explore, Del finds a young girl lying unconscious in the driver’s seat of a crashed vehicle and reluctantly rescues her.

Grace (Elle Fanning), that’s the name of the enigmatic girl, promises she’s alone but Del still wants her to leave, as he clearly doesn’t appreciate his tranquil balance to be altered. Yet at the same time, he’s intrigued by her vivacious personality and winds up allowing her to stay for a trial period. At first, thoroughly reserved and distant, the man has a hard time opening up and let Grace disrupt his routines but soon he warms up to her inquisitive nature and makes her part of his lifestyle.

Up until this point, the script works fine as what started almost like an episode of The Walking Dead relies solely on character development and small, moody moments of cleverly concocted mystery and tension. The more these two characters get to know each other, the more we get to know them and although the fact Grace might be hiding some big secret crosses our mind the minute she shows up on screen, the story is mostly preoccupied with fleshing out these people and their growing bond.

Then all of a sudden the inevitable pull of the looming plot changes the pace but not necessarily for the better. It’s merely a writing issue and we know that we need to delve into the bigger picture because as an audience we want to learn more about the apocalypse and all that jazz. However, the script doesn’t take the right time to get there and when the variable is thrown into Del and Grace’s newly formed relationship it all feels like we need to hastily get down to business. What suffers the most out of this storytelling flaw is the introduction of two new characters played by Paul Giamatti and Charlotte Gainsbourg, two of the finest actors working today, who are perfectly cast in these roles but have no time to shine in them.

In spite of this hiccup, Morano still manages to deliver a rather captivating piece of filmmaking, which works at its best in its most nuanced moments. For instance, the day before finding Grace on the road, Del is woken up by a set of fireworks being shot up somewhere not too far off in the dead of night. It’s an incredibly unsettling sequence as Del, who is pretty much sure to be the last man on Earth, all of a sudden receives a sign he might not be alone after all. The scene is filmed in the dark and follows Del from behind with a slow dolly push as he approaches the window to look at the surprising spectacle. The scene is brilliantly scripted, as it uses something that conventionally symbolises fun and joy to actually instil doubt and terror. Morano has crafted this seemingly small moment with such an eerily beautiful combination of visuals and soundscape.

Having started her career as a gifted Director of Photography on plenty of indie gems like Frozen River, The Skeleton Twins and Kill Your Darlings, it’s no surprise how Morano has transitioned to the director’s chair so gracefully. Once again this time, just like on her first underrated feature Meadowland, she has pulled a “Soderbergh” by lensing her own film, which only cements her artistic brilliance. She just can do it all and ever since winning the Emmy for best director in the drama category for The Handmaid’s Tale last year, she’s kept collecting accolades and breaking records, becoming the epitome of the woman filmmaker in the #MeToo era. Is it even possible that Producer Jason Blum didn’t get the memo?

Yet what needs to be acknowledged is that Reed Morano isn’t just one of the most exciting women filmmakers working today. She is one of the most interesting and promising directors in the industry, whose artistic sensibility is displayed through her pristine craft and highly complimented by her outstanding work with the actors she attracts to her projects. Dinklage immediately makes you forget the conniving character that’s made him famous in Game Of Thrones, crafting a deeply nuanced portrait of human sorrow with his introverted and misanthropic protagonist. And he finds the perfect screen partner in Elle Fanning, who keeps choosing compelling roles and confirms that her talent is no shorter than her sister Dakota’s.

We wish these wonderful actors, including Gainsbourg and Giamatti (who still leaves his mark in a taut face-to-face with Dinklage), had a stronger script to work with but they still show off their talent, making the most out of the material. I Think We’re Alone Now may falter when it comes to plot but still delivers an affecting reflection on loneliness, grief, loss and the complex nature of the human heart thanks to its amazing cast. That alone is worthy of your attention.

I Think We’re Alone Now is available on Digital Download/Streaming on iTunes, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Rakuten and Sky Store.

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