Movie Review – Alone [NYAFF 2016]

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EXPECTATIONS: A trippy ride of a thriller.

REVIEW: Psychological thrillers have always been a favourite genre of mine and with talented directors like David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, Dario Argento, Park Chan-wook, Satoshi Kon, Roman Polanski all being responsible for my favourite movies, watching the 2015 Korean film, Alone, should be right up my alley. Alongside the positive reviews and the reputation of the director, I decided to watch this movie. Am I going to like it and end up joining the devotees of this film or will I be left alone in my negativity?

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The film starts off with a POV shot from in a supposed murder scene, with blood everywhere and the character looks at a photo of a woman. The film transitions to another scene set in an undisclosed time. Three masked men drag a woman to the top of a building and supposedly kill her. By chance, Su-min (Lee Ju-won) sees them from a balcony several buildings away. He shoots the scene with his camera. One of the men notices him, and they start moving towards his building. Su-min tries to hide in his small apartment, but they find him, and then we discover Su-min, left for dead on a street corner, stark naked. He starts finding his way around the area. Being built on a hill, pathways go up and down, a veritable maze of alleys and back alleys. He encounters a child wielding a large knife, a catatonic woman and some other peculiar characters but soon enough finds his way back to his building. He discovers a decapitated person wearing his clothes in his apartment, and is attacked again by one of the masked men. Then he wakes up once more on the same street corner, and the journey starts again, this time with clothes.

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The film starts off really promising, with the criminals descending on Su-min’s apartment and he cowers in fear. It may seem cliched but director Park Hong-min pulls it off with style. With a pounding score and nail0iting tension that the camera captures when it refuses to cut, Park really immerses the viewer with its thrills. When it gets to the dream (or is it memory?) sequences (yes, there are more than one), the labyrinthine settings and the noir cinematography are fantastic since they both immerse the audience into its intriguing surroundings and its metaphorical implications. The feeling of claustrophobia and confusion is very palpable and director Park should be commended for that, especially with the budget and resources he had. Lee Ju-won’s fearless performance certainly helps, as he handles his character’s psychosis and physicality quite well despite the film’s shortcomings.

Which is a shame that after the first act, the film falls apart like a pack of cards. Revelations become surprisingly predictable and cliched, character interactions last way longer than they should (a scene between Su-min and Ji-yeon is a low-light) and lines of dialogue are way too expository to the point that it makes the audience look like idiots. Su-min actually says that the dark alleys are like pathways to his brain. And that is in the final act! And don’t get me started on the scene where he is confessing his doubts and fears to an unknown cameraman, who turns out to be SPOILER ALERT! HIMSELF! END SPOILER ALERT!

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But one of the biggest problems is that the journey does not lead to a destination that would leave the audience satisfied. There’s nothing worth noting in the climax of the film other than the revelations that you could easily guess; except for the incredibly blunt lines of expository dialogue. And for a psychological thriller, other than the beginning, there are absolutely no thrills to be found in this film. And the main reason for that is that there are no stakes. We never truly fear for Su-min’s safety. The masked men that apprehend him do appear from time to time, but they gradually turn into a background detail rather than an actual threat. It also doesn’t help that the character of Su-min is a bit of a jerk, which is clearly stated by his girlfriend Ji-yeon (Song You-hyun, adding life to a thankless role) on many occasions; it only serves to make the audience easily guess the revelations and it gets, quite frankly annoying and predictable.

Alone has such a great premise, fine acting and director Park Hong-min is certainly a talent with the film’s production values, but the storytelling is such a frustrating, plodding and infuriating bore that it almost undoes every effort Park has made. Alone is a perfect title for this movie, because it leaves the viewer as lost as Su-min does.

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Quickie Review

PROS

The acting is great

Park Hong-min’s directing is immersive

The settings and cinematography adds intrigue

CONS

Embarrassingly literal

Revelations are incredibly predictable

The ending is really anti-climactic

Slow pace and long dialogue sequences will bore

SCORE: 5/10

Cast: Lee Ju-won, Song You-hyun, Kim Dong-hyun, Yoon Young-min, Lee Sung-uk, Kwon Young-hwan, Nam Yeon-woo, Noh Seung-woo
Director: Park Hong-min
Screenwriters: Park Hong-min, Cha Hye-jin

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