A severely injured man and woman awake in an abandoned sanitarium only to discover that a sadistic caretaker holds the keys to their freedom and the horrific answers as to their true identity.
Intriguing to be sure (classic how?). And once the film comes to a close, you’ll certainly understand what he means by this. It wasn’t at all what I expected.
A female (Camille Stopps) and male (Thomas Cocquerel) wake up in a world of hurt. They’re both gravely injured, in some sort of deserted and rundown hospital – unable to move and barely able to communicate. They have no memory of who they are, how they got there – or even where “there” is. A man (Angus Macfayden) is present – caring for their wounds, feeding them and attempting to raise their spirits – all in the hopes of getting them into tip-top shape. But this man seems to have ulterior motives. Does he truly have the best interests of these two in mind?
But at least they’re “alive”, right? (see how I did that?)
The film has a weird memory connection (for me, of course) to Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs (perhaps it’s the rottweiler), and certainly gathers inspiration from the Saw franchise. While it never totally “goes there”, it does flirt with torture porn (not my favorite horror sub-genre).
Of the many good things in Alive, nothing is better than the three lead performances.
Thomas Cocquerel is the male patient. The character’s mute for the film’s first half hour, and so Cocquerel’s acting abilities are really put to the test. And yes, he passes. Communicating simply with grunts and body language (while tethered to a hospital bed), he never fails to show the audience his desperation. And his best moment comes early on (he’s great when he starts talking too), when his female counterpart is being harassed by Macfayden’s character. He’s helpless to assist and in his eyes, we see the frustration and the terror. And then the tears start to flow. My avid readers of 4 know how much “real tears” make the moment for me, and Cocquerel nails it. In the film’s final moments, he also shines, as he realizes what has been going on all of this time. His blow-up moment of anger at the “fingerprints” conversation is palpable and deliciously authentic.
Looking like she could be a sister to The Walking Dead’s Laurie Holden, Camille Stopps – God forgive me for this – pulls out all of the stops in this emotional performance. Like Cocquerel, she gets amazing mileage out of the confusion of the situation. I don’t think there was one moment where she wasn’t moist-eyed, tears running down her face. I can’t imagine the exhaustion of shooting a film like this, where your character is in a constant state of angst and terror. Her best moment finds her coming to terms with a suspicion she had early on. It’s placed in the midst of a chase scene, but Stopps so thoroughly sells it – you won’t mind that it slows things down a bit.
And then there’s Angus Macfayden (the Saw franchise, Braveheart). He brings a charm to “The Man” (how the character is listed on IMDb), and with that, you’ll certainly be thrown off. His intentions are never clear until the end – and Macfayden does an amazing job of leading you on. Underneath all of the character’s outward weirdness and control issues, there’s something deeper – perhaps caring – happening. The character does take a more cliché “stalk-n-slash” turn as the film goes on, but you’ll understand why later. Macfayden brings top-notch acting quality to whatever emotion is required of “The Man”.
However, I’m not sure I approve of the more enigmatic qualities of the character. Clearly, we can’t know too much about him – for fear of revealing too much about the film’s secret. But the hinted at past isn’t quite enough.
And speaking of that – I see that there were clues (looking back over the story) as to the possible revelations (which I thought were interesting and certainly unique – unexpected) – but I had absolutely no idea that this was where the story was headed. I don’t consider myself dense on such things, in general (ask me about my response to the ending of The Sixth Sense) – but I didn’t pick up on the clues as to what was ultimately going on in this filthy hospital. To me, that says the clues just weren’t powerful enough. I don’t want spoon-feeding, but if the sleuthing is all on me, it’s not necessarily a great experience.
I did love the overall sense of mystery present. It was an edge-of-your-seat experience of me really, truly wanting to know why these people were in this situation, who they were and what the man’s ultimate goals might be.
The film was shot in Canada, and I’m curious as to the hospital location. It’s clearly abandoned (if not, then extra kudos to the design team), and is a perfect location for the various happenings of the story.
It ain’t all hunky-dory though, folks.
At times, the music felt overdone. I was pleased with the overall story and characters, so in this case – the music became distracting. There was no need for it to work overtime to compensate for shortcomings elsewhere in the production. So the frequent stingers always seemed out of place and unnecessary.
The film is a short 91 minutes, but it felt much longer – and not in the “the character ordeals are just too much to handle” way. There are pacing problems, notably once the film moves into the second act. Once the initial concept is established and our characters are in some sort of peril – it slows down significantly.
And with the same locale for much of the film, there is the problem of repetition.
Bottom line, the film could have been cut by a good ten minutes, just to keep things moving along.
At a post-screening conversation with the writers/producers, we discussed one of my favorite scenes. It’s an early conversation (great dialogue here) between the male and female patients – where the male is unable to speak, so he replies to her queries with simple grunts, nods and shaking his head back and forth. It’s actually a lovely scene which apparently was on the chopping block, but eventually (thankfully) remained in the film.
I bring this up to illustrate not only my love for the sequence, but also to point out that no – don’t cut there, cut somewhere else. This was a wonderful bit of character-building, so it would have been a travesty to lose such tender and telling moments. No, cut some of the many, many scenes of chasing through the hospital. There, problem solved!
Finally, the concept of “home” is a strong one throughout, and for my money – “Home” might have been a better title than “Alive”. But, of course, I see the significance of “Alive” as well.
With three exceptional performances, a solid production design – Alive is well worthwhile. But I can’t recommend it without throwing in my many reservations (outlined above).
This presentation of Alive at FilmQuest in Provo, Utah, was the film’s World Premiere. Thus, it’s just in the infancy of its festival run. So keep your eyes peeled for showings in your neighborhood.
At FilmQuest, the film is nominated for six awards, including: Best Feature Film, Best Director for a Feature – Rob Grant, Best Screenplay for a Feature – Chuck McCue and Jules Vincent, Best Actress in a Feature for Camille Stopps, Best Supporting Actor in a Feature – Angus Macfayden and Best Makeup in a Feature.
Hmmmm… I see no nomination for Best Actor for Cocquerel, but there is FilmQuest’s patented “secret nominees” announced at the festival’s awards ceremony, so here’s hoping Cocquerel fits that bill when the time comes!
McCue and Vincent also explained that they’ve already begun working on scripts for both a prequel and a sequel. Stay tuned!