Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Leonor Varela, Jens Hulten, Johannes Haukur Johannesson
Director: Albert Hughes
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: An epic adventure set in the last Ice Age,ALPHA tells a fascinating, visually stunning story that shines a light on the origins of man’s best friend. While on his first hunt with his tribe’s most elite group, a young man is injured and must learn to survive alone in the wilderness. Reluctantly taming a lone wolf abandoned by its pack, the pair learn to rely on each other and become unlikely allies, enduring countless dangers and overwhelming odds in order to find their way home before winter arrives.
Based on the original marketing campaign for Alpha and the amount of times the release of this film has been delayed or changed, I fully expected this to end up as one of the worst films of 2018. When early reviews started to pour in and showed that it was an above average movie, I opened my expectations a bit and went to see what was so great about this movie. While the story is your standard hero’s journey with the assistance of an animal, the cinematography is some of the prettiest of the year. The 96 minute runtime is filled with gorgeous nature shots that elevate Alpha from a run of the mill adventure movie to something that is visually appealing the whole time.
The film follows Keda (Smit-McPhee), a young man who is trying to prove his value to his tribe as he joins them on a hunt for food. When an accident leaves him physically broken and abandoned, he must survive the elements as well as the wild animals that are coming after him. When he teams up with a wolf named Alpha, both of them have unique obstacles that they must overcome and must rely on one another to survive. The thing that stands out the most about this film is the vast array of nature that is on full display. This movie takes full advantage of the environment in which it was shot with intimate care of the world surrounding these characters. Whether it was a wide shot of a snowy plain or a close-up of men covered in mud waiting for the right time to strike, the camerawork does a great job of showing the sheer scale and size of the tasks these characters go through. Outside of that, I was surprised that the film did not use English as the primary form of dialogue. While the language was made up, it made sense that they did not have someone speaking English when the story takes place 20,000 years ago. Maybe they could have used a language that actually existed back then, but it is better than having nomads speaking perfect English like other films have done in the past. Regarding the story, this is a pretty standard man versus nature film that does not do anything poorly enough for me to take points away from it. Have we seen stories like this thousands of times before? Absolutely. Does this add anything new to the genre? Not really. Does this film do anything wrong though? No, and sometimes we want a bit a familiarity from our movies and movies made in a way where it is there solely to entertain and make us feel good. Barring a few cool action sequences and some solid acting by Smit-McPhee, this movie is pretty much what you would expect it to be from a story perspective. There is not a whole lot you can do with a premise like this, so I give the film credit for not taking a nosedive, but I do not think people come to a movie like this thinking they are going to get this year’s best original screenplay nominee.
Overall, Martin Gschlacht, the cinematographer for this film, is someone you should keep an eye on in upcoming years. He effortlessly utilized the world around these characters and made it so that it not only helped us understand the struggle that they went through, but it engrossed the audience and made it feel like we were there with them. Very rarely can a film’s camerawork elevate it this much, but when it does, it makes me feel like the movie was worth the time and money spent on it. If this movie had been marketed properly, then maybe I would not have been so surprised that I enjoyed it, but due to the abundance of natural beauty in this film, not only would I see it again, I would see it on the biggest screen possible.
Overall Score: 7.5/10