Written by: Matt Molgaard
Directed by: Derek Mungor
Cast: Krista Dzialoszynski, David O’Brien, Mary Mikva, Nikki Pierce
One of the most frustrating films I’ve seen in years, Derek Mungor’s You Are Not Alone does a whole lot of things right. Hell, I’d say he does a lot of things that border on perfect. The problem is, the errors in the film really, really stick out, forcing a giant facepalm from the audience on more than one occasion. Pros and cons aside, it’s hard to argue against the fact that You Are Not Alone does an amazing job of blending classic slasher elements with pronounced home invasion elements. The two come together beautifully, that much just can’t be refuted.
To sum up the story in a nutshell, it’s about a college kid who heads back to her hometown to hang with old friends and enjoy a little time away from school over the Fourth of July holiday. But there’s been a curfew put in place, as a lunatic serial killer has been producing some lifeless bodies in nearby areas as of late. Obviously, this small community would like to steer clear of that bloody and brutal fate. But there will be no avoiding what’s coming, and Natalie, our focal protagonist, is about to learn that the hard way as she falls directly into the murderer’s line of sight, and what he sees is something he clearly finds magnetic.
The entire film is shot as a POV story, everything unraveling from the eyes of Natalie. It’s a good way to generate the found footage feel while steering clear of the found footage classification. Think Hardcore Henry meets The Strangers and you’ve got an idea of what You Are Not Alone is all about and the style in which you’ll behold should you get around to tuning in.
There’s some cinematography in the picture’s early goings that proves nothing shy of mystifying. We’re talking about some stunning, stunning shots that hearken back to early Richard Linklater days, and I absolutely adored that. It just looks beautiful… so beautiful in fact, that I prayed the entire film would follow that visual blueprint. It doesn’t, but it does afford us a whole slew of mesmerizing moments. The dread isn’t to be ignored, however. Mungor knows how to generate palpable tension. He knows how to turn simple, action-free scenes into respectably artsy imagery. It’s beautiful.
Natalie partakes in a little weed smoking, a little drinking, a lot of hanging with old friends, and then ultimately, an extended showdown with a madman in a suit who’s absolutely hell bent on ending the youngster’s life. We’re talking hell bent – he literally chases Natalie for long stretches throughout the dimly lit streets of this quiet community, taunting her, calling out to her by name… eerie laughter trailing those chants. He’s relentless and unwavering in his homicidal mission. It’s frightening. It’s really frightening, and it could toss a monkey wrench in your plans for sleep.
But, despite all of those amazing aspects of the film (I should probably toss in a quick nod to the performers, who all do a good job of staring at a camera and pretending it’s only an old friend – the cast impresses) we run into a few jaw-dropping WTF moments. For example, someone in the film (trying to avoid key spoilers here) gets wiped out by a car. Just absolutely bowled over… in a few minutes they’re up and mobile. I’ve been in a few serious accidents that left me physically broken and I’ll tell you right now, I sure as hell wasn’t jumping up in moment’s time. Another major, major, major misfire is the seeming aloofness of bit players and extras, and a couple totally and utterly unlikely (loathe-worthy) decisions made by our heroine.
Although I’m working hard to refrain from spreading spoilers, I will give you one example of our Final Girl’s uber-ridiculous decision making: There’s a point in the picture in which Natalie is nearing her breaking point, frantic, hurt, terrified and fleeing while being pursued by a murderer. She encounters a few people in the middle of the street. It’s dark, but this group – who have an operating vehicle at the ready – clearly see the battered woman. This is the moment when the chaos can reach its summit in believability. This is that one guaranteed moment to shoot Natalie’s chances of survival through the roof, and anyone being pursued by a killer would no doubt leap – scratch that – FLY into a vehicle, spewing prayers to help her escape the reach of the killer. Well, Natalie chooses to… get ready for it… waves them on, content to keep hobbling around tempting her fate.
I damn near broke down in frustration at that point. It’s an example of terrible, terrible, terrible screenwriting, and it’s the kind of mistake that any filmmaker who watches a planned final cut of his film should spot and say, hey, this really doesn’t work! It’s stupid – it’s out of place! It’s an insult to our viewers intelligence. Well, not only does the viewer sit idly as Mungor turns his Final Girl into what is essentially a complete moron, we’re also experiencing what it’s like to have a steaming pile of fecal matter dropped on the viewer.
Those kinds of things can damage some films more than others. Given the genius of 90-percent of You Are Not Alone, those decisions feel amplified dramatically, but they don’t bury the pic. Those mistakes hurt the film on a grand level, ultimately dropping my personal score from a 4.5 of 5, to a 3.5 of 5. It’s still an exhilarating, creepy, disconcerting film, it’s just that a few of those ‘you’ve gotta be kiddin’ me’ moments knock a shitload of shine from the film.
That broke my heart.
I wanted a masterpiece from Mungor, and he just about gave me one, until he insisted that the confrontation between Natalie and the killer becomes something unintentionally comedic, all due to decisions that totally and completely defy rational thought and survival extinct. It’s too bad to see this one suffer such a fate, but I now know that Derek Mungor, assuming he decides to respect the viewers a bit more in the future when he’s spending endless hours in the writing room, has the ability to shoot a spellbinding picture. Some mistakes are overlookable, and I wish that had been the case with this film, but Mungor (and co-writer Chris O’Brien, who I’ve neglected to issue respect for – apologies!) misses two completely brilliant moments to wrap his film, instead content to drag things along and force the finale (as opposed to making some adjustments) that he’s got in his mind… a finale that doesn’t work as well as I’d hoped after seeing those two scenes that felt like perfect, chilling conclusions.
This entire crew has my respect, and for an indie film that could have easily felt like a cheap B-movie, I’d say we’re dealing with a success story, despite a few extremely sketchy script decisions. I’ll certainly have my eye on Mungor’s future projects.