The stylised font of the original French title for Alone, Seuls, raises the second upstroke of the ‘u’ higher than the first, so that it is possible to discern, encoded in the end of the word, the vestiges of Ils, the title of David Moreau’s feature debut (called Them in English) that he co-directed with Xavier Palud back in 2008. Both films may concern the escapades of armed children, but the differences are more striking than the similarities. Where Ils was loosely based on a story ripped straight from the headlines (and converted with great craft to the pure thrills of the home invasion genre), Alone is adapted from Fabien Vehlmann and Bruno Gazzotti’s graphic novel series Seuls, and, far from repeating the intense horror of Them, plays out as a young adult SF(-ish) mystery.
Upset by the ill health of her older brother Aylam), teen Leila (Sofia Lesaffre) distances herself from her friends and parents, and just wants to be alone – but after heading off by herself to a visiting fair, she wakes up to not just a house, but an entire city, that has become eerily deserted overnight. As she and four other isolated children join forces to discover where everyone else has gone and find unexpected friendship in their circumstance (the word in the French title for ‘alone’ is paradoxically plural), a sixth figure observes and occasionally attacks them, while a noxious wall of mist slowly closes in on the empty city.
Alone is no doubt intended to be the cinematic equivalent of the amusement ride that Leila takes at the film’s beginning – but it is all a little too flat and unengaging to be genuinely thrilling, while the explanation offered near the end for what is really going on is a little too similar to the premise of other, better films (I won’t spoil by naming them here) to blow any viewer’s mind. There is real ambition in showing young children being confronted with the realities and ramifications of death before their time, but the double-twist pulled off at the film’s end, as a theological frame is introduced only to be undercut by a political one, is as baffling as it is unsatisfying.