Zombies are all the rage right now. While they have been a part of the horror genre for quite a number of years, they have become almost chic with the level of visibility they have on television and in movie houses. This of course brings up a problem. What do you do if you’re an independent filmmaker/writer and you wish to make a zombie movie? How do you craft a story and film so that it stands apart from all the other zombie TV and movie properties out there? The answer is actually quite simple: you make I Am Alone.
Michael A. Weiss (writer) has worked on numerous projects and in many different positions, from Grip (Movies 101), to Assistant Camera (Pimp My Ride), Editor (Unconventional) and even Producer (People Of Earth). Here he gets his chance to try his hand at writing a zombie story like no other, and working with veteran co-writer/director Robert A. Palmer (People Of Earth, Elysian, The Potchki Chronicles) they have made something which almost flies in the face of conventional horror movie making.
The movie stars Gareth David-Lloyd (Torchwood) as Jacob Fitts who hosts a reality TV show called “I Am Alone” where he deliberately places himself isolated in places where he’s forced to survive using his skills and wits. He works with a film crew that includes Adam Levine (played by Rory Zacher) and Mason Riley (skillfully portrayed by Gunner Wright), and their role is to monitor Fitts’ progress as he continues to film and document his trials while being all alone in whatever environment the reality show calls for him at the time. This is the setting for this movie’s “zombie apocalypse” as some unknown virus is causing the townsfolk of Montrose, Colorado to slowly degenerate into this movie’s zombie threat. While that may seem somewhat ordinary as far as zombie movies go, it is in the story narrative that the film establishes itself.
The movie opens with Riley as he’s being held in some secured bunker and is interrogated by a doctor named Marlow (Marshal Hilton) who is presumably part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Dr. Marlow is desperate in trying to determine what has happened, how it might have happened, but most importantly of all, how to cure this plague that has besieged the town and surrounding area of Montrose. He has found Riley, who has so far not contracted the zombie plague, and is questioning him about Fitts. Marlow seems to believe that Fitts may very well hold the cure for this epidemic and together they go through the “found footage” that Fitts documented during his entire time while being alone in the Colorado wilderness. Of course little did Fitts know that he would also be documenting his descent as he slowly fell prey to the zombie disease over a period of days, as opposed to almost immediately like the other victims of this plague, hence why Marlow is so interested in finding Fitts in an attempt to harvest a cure.
The real sparkle of this movie is the narrative that drives the plot. Much of the story (both Fitts’ and Riley’s) is told through the form of flashbacks (by way of found film footage that both Fitts and Riley were taking simultaneously). Riley’s footage is basically about a man on the run as he tries to evade his zombie pursuers. Where his scenes stand out are those in the CDC bunker. Virtually everything there is “told” from the POV of the security cameras that monitor and document everything that is happening. Gunner Wright really shines in those scenes as a man who is frustrated at his sudden captivity, as well as his sense of helplessness in trying to understand why all of this has happened, as well as what has happened to his best friend (Fitts). It’s safe to say that practically no one has gone through what Riley is facing while in the CDC bunker. Actors usually try to draw upon some type of reality in their lives in order to fuel the performance needed for the role they are playing, and Wright does a magnificent job at giving us a character that is beyond both frustrated and terrified. Also the use of “security cameras” as our means to watch what is happening in the room is very unsettling. It creates a sense that there is a dispassionate observer on the other end. Then again I have always found such film techniques to be very disturbing.
Then there is Gareth David-Lloyd. All of his scenes are “found footage,” and they show us a man who starts off on this fun adventure in the wilderness, from kayaking down a river to later eating gooseberries. As often as reality TV shows have this sort of “selfie motion picture” feel about it, David-Lloyd delivers with such warm charm that you cannot help but immediately like Fitts. He’s someone you would love to explore the wilderness with, or even possibly meet up in some pub and have a pint with him. That is why the audience feels a strong sense of distress when Fitts finally has, and documents, his close encounter with a zombie. By way of the cameras Fitts uses for his reality show we are now an unwilling witness to this unfortunate event.
And so it begins. As the movie progresses we see how Fitts is gradually losing himself, first with issues of fatigue, and then his mind starts to go. It is here that this film is now compelling. David-Lloyd, more than convincingly, gives us a character who is degrading right before our very eyes. The use of the footage that documents this gives us the feeling that we are there with him. We are now more than just witnesses to this terrible plight he’s facing. Now we are with him on this terrible journey he’s on. When the footage shows him weak and stumbling we feel this pressing need to help him up so that he can continue to his destination, and hopefully, a cure to what ails him. It’s in this performance that David-Lloyd does more than excel. We believe that he’s slowly losing himself to this affliction. His performance pulls us in and we forget that we are watching a horror film, but instead start to believe that we are also watching some found footage of a man succumbing to a terrible disease, with an even more terrible ending. Where he found the internal motivation to deliver such an acting performance escapes me. It was to this movie watcher, nothing less than brilliant. Of course I must also give compliments to the writing, the directing, and the editing of those scenes. The writing gave David-Lloyd the wonderful material to draw upon, the directing helped him to focus his acting energy with just the right level of intensity, and the editing gave those scenes the ideal pace and flow that could have ruined an otherwise Oscar worthy acting performance.
The movie has a very open ending which may seem distressing to some, especially if they are watching it for the first time. However as I re-watched it and thought about it I realized that Weiss and Palmer were trying to create something that would defy convention. The typical horror/action movie would introduce your players, then subject them to the story threat, followed by the resolution as the survivors manage to escape their doom. However I Am Alone isn’t that type of film. Through the use of found footage this film becomes a psychological study of what happens when a person becomes a victim of the zombie apocalypse. This isn’t about a movie threat that needs to be overcome before the ending credits. No, this is a movie about the human condition, and what happens when it is slowly eroding away as it does with Fitts, and with a movie that explores this topic under such a zombie threat, there can be no real ending. There can only be despair, and that is why the movie succeeds at being a true horror film.
To learn more about I Am Alone just go to www.iamalonethemovie.com