This is a film that came out of nowhere, I just spotted some positive buzz online and reached out to the makers of this 'First Person Thriller' on a whim.
I think it's pretty safe to say that was a good decision…
YOU ARE NOT ALONE (2014)
Dir: Derek Mungor
Starring: Krista Dzialoszynski, David O'Brien, Mary Mikva, Keenan Camp, Nikki Pierce, Eric Wood, Katie Johnston-Smith, Dan Abbate, Thomas A Ptasnik
SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here but read on at your own risk.
College graduate Natalie (Dzialoszynski) returns to her small hometown of Walnut for the 4th of July weekend. After getting picked up by her brother Garrett (O'Brien), Natalie heads to the family home. Their parents are away but Natalie soon busies herself by spending time with her Nana (Mikva) and longterm friends, the very fun Miles (Camp) and Katie (Pierce).
The friends wander around the small town, generally having fun — some of which is less than legal as they visit The Captain (Wood) to score some weed.
As they travel around and enjoy their lighthearted fun we hear from Katie's father, the local Sheriff (Ptasnik), that something untoward is going on. There have been a couple of murders in the region and as such a curfew is being enforced.
Of course, after a day of fun culminating in the customary firework display, the three head to a party where booze is free-flowing. In what seems like the blink of an eye, the curfew comes and goes, but finally Natalie sets off for home… then things take a turn for the worse.
OK, OK, I understand that may not tell you enough so I'll elaborate. You Are Not Alone is a movie in which the entire story is told from the point of view of the protagonist, Natalie. This is different to a more traditional Found Footage flick. The film is not a mockumentary, it isn't meant to be a deliberately filmed record of events — it is a straightforward movie but told via P.O.V. This means that it is not bound by the same laws as that sub-genre. Here music can be used as a soundtrack, believability is not stretched when events reach a point at which any sane person would have hurled their camera and ran, and events don't even need to unfold in real time. What it does allow, however, is that deeply immersive experience that works so well for these movies, plus the creeping and claustrophobic feeling that comes from having such a narrow and subjective framing for the story. There's no knowing what could be lurking just beyond the edge of the screen...
That is arguably You Are Not Alone's biggest strength. The intensity of the latter moments during a truly harrowing game of cat and mouse are some of the most chilling, edge-of-your-seat scenes that I've viewed since I've started reviewing horror flicks here at this blog. Mungor is able to wring every last drop of tension and terror from these moments — this is a director who absolutely and totally understands what is required to make his film work, and by god, he does it.
It's not just the after-dark horrors that he nails, no, Mungor also shows a real aptitude with the slower, character development scenes during the first half of the movie. With a relaxed, laid-back pace (taken from the script he co-wrote with Chris O'Brien), he presents his characters and the lovely little town of Walnut as carefree and innocent. With some wonderful characterisation with Natalie and her friends (both Miles and Katie are hilarious and likeable, while Garrett's earlier scenes make him seem like a decent enough guy) the first 30-40 minutes of the movie almost unfold like a heady, coming of age comedy. This gets us to care for our cast, yet also layers a slight, but omnipresent sense of unnerving foreboding throughout, ratcheting up the tension as it draws us in before springing its trap.
The characterisation is helped no end by a handful of standout performances. O'Brien gives us an assured performance that certainly cranks up the sympathy late on when events turn darker, while both Camp and Pierce are fantastic. Camp is laugh-out-loud funny at times while Pierce is wildly fun to watch. I expect to see big things from the pair of them in the days ahead, they really are that good.
While we're talking about fun and witty performances, Wood kills it during his short scene. The Captain is very funny indeed, and while a lot of the hilarity undoubtedly comes from the writing, Wood still shows impeccable comedy timing.
On a very different note, the immensely talented Dzialoszynski performs a wonderful task. In a role in which we don't get to see her face, she still manages to get us onside through wonderful line delivery and the odd gesture. This truly is a tremendous achievement.
The last major role is that of Abbate. From the point at which he first appears, a creepy, blank, disembodied face in the night, he is both utterly captivating and spine-chilling. Certain scenes involving him are the stuff of nightmares, not least his furious and utterly brutal onslaughts, but perhaps most in the totally demented dance he does, a disconcerting mix of malevolent glee and barely-restrained, seething, homicidal rage. Quite simply, he is a revelation, a new breed of cinematic monster.
Obviously the actors alone cannot carry a movie of this type and Mungor ensures that all the other elements are in place to support and heighten their performances. With scintillating cinematography by director of photography Ryan Glover, the film is beautifully shot. The bright, breezy summer day is full of life, while the deep dark shadows of the night are menacing and full of hidden dangers. A stand out point is the wonderfully eerie scene in which Natalie walks home through the deserted streets of Walnut while fireworks sporadically flare in the distance. It's both mesmerising and haunting.
Mungor and his crew also use the unique P.O.V gimmick to perfection, making for a truly realistic and utterly frightening and unrelenting chase sequence.
Finally, You Are Not Alone has an incredible soundtrack. The music choices are cool, atmospheric and badass. I shall be all over iTunes ensuring I pick up these songs. I've a feeling a lot of you will too.
THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): While it isn't exactly a Found Footage movie, You Are Not Alone does possess one of the flaws inherent in the sub-genre. A few times, during the film's more frenetic moments, the handheld camera becomes a little too shaky, making it very difficult to discern what is going on. It's only for a few seconds at a time, but it is there. Luckily, it doesn't crop up too often, but if you're one of those people who found themselves struck down with motion sickness while watching The Blair Witch Project, you should be warned.
Also, while I praised the time taken to build mood and familiarise us with the characters, some of the more hardcore fans may find that the earlier part of the film drags. However, to those who prefer their horror more Hatchet than Rosemary's Baby, I would urge you to show some patience. What comes later in this film is totally worth the wait.
That isn't too say that it becomes a blood and guts splatterfest late on — it doesn't. There are some gory moments late on, but that isn't what this movie is aiming for. It's all about the stalking terror, the heart-stopping chaos of the chase. This is not a mindless horror flick — it is a scary movie.
Finally, while I loved most of the plotting and thought the chase section of the movie was awesome, I did think that the sheer length of the pursuit stretched credulity somewhat. There comes a couple of points where it really does feel like Natalie should be ok and her assailant should be unable to continue his rampage undetected by the town and local law enforcement, yet somehow events continue. It's not enough to hinder enjoyment of the movie, but some suspension of disbelief is definitely necessary here.
THE VERDICT: I'll cut straight to the chase — You Are Not Alone is one of the very best films that I have reviewed here at the House. It is a terrifically frightening, wonderfully well-made and personal tale, that oozes cool and uses every trick at it's disposal to craft an inimitable viewing experience. Quite simply, this is a must-see.
To find out how you can check out this incredible movie, check out its official Facebook page for news. Give it a Like while you're there too, this film definitely deserves it.
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