Alone is a thriller so stripped back to the bare bones of its concept that it’s practically a rampaging skeleton. An impeccable cat-and-mouse chase that skims across genres with single-minded zeal, John Hyams’ film throws a grieving woman into the wilderness with both unforgiving nature and a homicidal stalker to contend with. While we are – unlike our beleaguered heroine – in familiar territory, every aspect is of the highest calibre.

Jules Willcox plays Jessica, a woman who is moving across the country by car after her husband’s suicide. Understandably yearning for a fresh start, she’s packed her world into a rented trailer and set off to leave her trauma behind. On her travels she keeps encountering the same man (Marc Menchaca), too many times their meetings to be coincidental. After one fraught confrontation, her tyre explodes, throwing her off the road. In her rear view mirror she sees a set of lights approaching, the beams belonging to an all-too-familiar vehicle. Jessica’s nightmare is just beginning.

For such a simple, spartan idea, Alone is almost a triptych of survival sub-genres in itself. Starting off as a road pursuit like Duel, it switches to a hostage drama, before winding up as a wilderness survival thriller. Hyams proves adept at all three, and the script – by Swede Mattias Olsson, adapting his own F√∂rsvunnen – is as efficient and pared back as the direction. Cleverly, all exposition is kept for the middle section; the only part where we achieve anything approaching stasis. Even then, it’s no more than we need to know. Olsson and Hyams trust their actors to pick up the necessary slack, and both come through admirably.

Menchaca is possibly the most unassuming psychopath since Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu in The Vanishing. Resembling a malignant Ned Flanders with his spectacles and moustache, he spews misogyny one moment and croons down the phone to his wife and children the next. When Jessica offers to give him money in exchange for her freedom, he replies; ‘Do you really think you’re the first one to say that?’ A line delivered with chilling disdain, and one that efficiently tells the viewer everything about Jessica’s situation. Menchaca’s banal menace is matched by the excellent Willcox as the smart, resourceful, and determined Jessica. You can see the exact point in her eyes where she resolves to live, regardless of her grief and her ordeal. It’s a stirring performance.

Lean, mean, and fine-tuned to a constant, twanging tension, Alone works all the better for being shorn of its bells and whistles. Look past the generic title and the back-of-a-fag-packet plot synopsis and you’ll find one of the purest and finest genre exercises in recent memory. Sprinkling just enough crumbs of character for its two leads to shine, and for the viewer to engage, it’s as tense and engaging a 90 minutes as you’ll find. It’s almost tempting to claim that they don’t make them like this any more, but this isn’t strictly true. Films like Matthew Pope‘s admirable Blood on her Name show that a spare frame can highlight real talent, and even Taylor Sheridan’s Those Who Wish Me Dead feels like a real throwback to the kind of vertiginous high concept that would have had Don Simpson weeping with joy into his cocaine.

Alone is easily the match of those films, marrying its escalating ordeal with the bleak atmosphere of Joe Carnahan‘s estimable chiller, The Grey. For all we want Jessica to prevail against her pursuer, there is always the sense that we’re viewing with the mild, dispassionate amusement of a jaded god. It could be the terrifying plausibility of Jessica’s harrowing situation, or Hyam’s frequent wide shots that demonstrate just how small she is in a wide, uncaring expanse. It’s as chilly and chilling as it gets.

Available on Blu-ray from Mon 12 Jul 2021