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Alone (2002)
Director: Philip Claydon

review by Paul Higson

Still pinning my hopes on if not a Golden Age at least a Silver Age of British horror films, it is helped along by good movies like this one. Alone is the assured and novel feature debut of Philip Claydon, a Welsh filmmaker with pursuits in the horror field. There is a lot of showing off here, with most of the trickery paying off, of particular surprise given the variety of visual and light conceptual shenanigans. For starters there is an unconventional serial killer who then again might not be. Alex's victims die through their mistreatment, are shakily termed accidental, though it's doubtful a classification of manslaughter would rest, and the culprit is clearly murderous before the end. Point of view shots for the killer, a tinny vocal effect on the voice, flash editing, a prominently female cast given very strong roles, a theme of OCD, flashbacks, speed-ups... hold up now, who do you think you are? Not all of the ploys work, and backfiring most of all is the identity of the killer, the POV trying to hide one fact, hoping that the viewer will anticipate its purpose is other, possibly the identification of the killer among the given cast. I only took it to be part of the sleight instead, becoming an insistent, nagging repeat down-pull that would normally aggravate the viewer, but curiously balances out for most of the running time amidst all the other play, the shoddy daftness overcoming it only in the final quarter of a hour.

Clare Goose plays the first victim, Alice, and is dead before the first three and a half minutes are up, with the blazing opening title sequence already behind her before she opens her front door, to give you an idea of the pace and her part. Isabelle Brooke is Jen, the morbid new young detective who has bypassed the patrol years and is working on a trial basis under veteran detective, surname of Hannah (why not, most of the cast is female, let's add to the gender confusion) played with rock solid presence by John Shrapnel. Jen seems keen to file it an accident or a suicide, while he is determined that Alice's death was a murder, drawing on the post mortem report: "Who falls backwards downstairs in their own house alone?" The valid question ends the scene and sums up his credentials.

Meanwhile the latex gloves are on, fiddling away at the bottom of the screen, as the POV killer, Alex, meets weekly appointments with a caseworker, played by the eccentric and eccentrically shot and edited Miriam Margoyles. "How do you like your new caseworker?" asks Charlotte, the secretary (Laurel Holloman). "She's filthy," quietly responds the OCD sufferer, providing one of the few quick decent laughs. Following some chance voyeurism at the cemetery, Alex stalks another lonely soul, Sarah (Caroline Carver), as she chats to a partner's gravestone. Sarah only becomes aware that an intruder has been in her home when she returns one day from shopping with no recollection of having cleaned the dishes, the real shriek coming at finding the magnetic letters on the freezer door alphabetically sorted in rows. She persuades a friend, Stacie (Claudia Harrison, from the BBC's Attachments) to stay the night though that is not enough to keep the trespasser out. The episode concludes with a gruelling encounter between obsessive and captive and as the film moves into the second half the body-count mounts.

Alone could have been a premise simply enough told and working well enough at that but is instead packed with a considerable separate attempts at cleverness, developed by Claydon, David Ball, Jonathan Davies and Mark Loughman from, or into, an 'original screenplay' by Paul Hart-Wilden, the maker of Living Doll (1989). It fails terribly on several points but makes up for its blundering in the many other tries. The main problems are towards the conclusion with the unsurprising final revelation, in the comic turns gone bad and the increasing preposterousness of the police procedure. The hospital too is unbelievable, with seemingly the one patient and a night warden (played very badly by a haggard Rick Wakeman, yes, that Rick Wakeman) with a reception office full of porno page cuttings who masturbates to sex chat lines with his office corridor window open. The star detectives are the only ones otherwise guarding the girl following a televised cajole of the killer. It all takes badly from the overall effect of the film. Dumb moves aside there is a lot of lively dialogue, intriguingly set-up scenes and relationships, some strong female characters that none of the actresses could carp about playing, inventive camera and editing (attributable to Peter Thornton and Jonathan Rudd respectively) and never a dull second. The opening titles sequence by Susen Vurel to the music of Carver (seemingly Claydon and Rudd assuming their lead actress' name for their musical partnership) sets the fast pace and anxiety level.

There are a number of standout moments. A force-feeding sequence is violently edited with ugly sound effects and the results are disturbing. As Alex is riled by the news broadcast, another killing is captured in a reflection on the television screen. Paul Edwards' Steadicam work is highly commendable, contributing significantly to the efficacy of many of the scenes. It is no surprise that the film was snapped up for a shelf life when many British independent films sit unwanted. John Shrapnel is the one solid and dependable male actor in the film, the only one deemed necessary, which shouldn't be as unusual as it is. The largely female cast does not make it a horror film better suited for the female audience (something that has been said is the predominant reaction to London Voodoo). Alone boasts a sound cast and a good, if flawed, script. It should satisfy and has enough quirky content to develop a reputation in the way twisted, imaginative and fun films once used to. Claydon has a number of projects in development, with 'Creepkillers' reportedly already in the can and 'Zombie Island', due for a £12 million shoot in Africa in the summer of 2005. If other projected titles 'Howl Of The Dead' and ;Revenge Of The Blood Demon', slated under his Mercury Films mantle, are anything to go by, his roots lie in unabated exploitation horror, British at that. I look forward to it.
Alone

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