Saturday, August 25, 2018

Movie Review: "Alpha" (2018)

Director: Albert Hughes
Year: 2018
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hour, 36 minutes

A young hunter is separated from his tribe after he is thought to be dead. He must now survive the perilous journey home with the help of a wolf he is able to befriend.

"Prove you can lead. Find your strength." (Image Source)
With all of its release date push-backs and the drastic changes in its marketing, one may have expected "Alpha" to be a total disaster. We must say, the final result was a little surprising, to say the least. "Alpha" is directed by Albert Hughes. It is the first feature narrative he has directed by himself, though he has many directorial credits working with his brother Allen on such projects like "Menace II Society," "From Hell," and "The Book of Eli." Hughes also helped write the film along with Daniele Sebastian Wiedenhaupt, a first-time screenwriter. The story takes place in Europe 20,000 years in the past and focuses on a primitive tribe of hunters, mainly a young man named Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee), the son of Tau (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson), the tribe's chieftain. Keda and several of the other young men from the village are being taken out on their first hunting trip as a right of passage into manhood. Tragedy strikes during the trip, and Keda is thrown off a cliff by a stampeding buffalo. Thinking he is dead, his father and the rest of their tribe pay their respects and return home. Still alive, Keda must now brave the dangers of the wilderness alone, until he finds a wolf he is able to befriend, who aids him on the journey home.
"To survive, we must focus. be patient." (Image Source)
"Alpha" is part coming-of-age character piece, part man-versus-beast-turned-forming-a-bond-with-beast, but at its core, it is a pretty standard man versus nature survival story. As we mentioned, there was a drastic marketing shift after this film was pushed back several months. The first trailer and promotional materials for this film focused on the young man's journey into manhood and his hard fight for survival. It sold the story as a dramatic, more prehistoric, more sanitized version of "The Revenant." When that campaign wasn't working, the studio shifted focus and started selling it as a family adventure tale about a boy and his wolf complete with happy, uplifting music and a history lesson about how man domesticated the dog. "Alpha" is actually both of these things, though we would say its overall tone matches the first trailer much more than the second. One thing the marketing doesn't show us is that "Alpha" is entirely subtitled. Hughes takes the same route Mel Gibson did with films like "Apocalypto" and "The Passion of the Christ" where all of the characters speak in era and region appropriate dialect. We really liked this aspect of the movie, but it may be a detractor for some people who are taking their young kids to see it thinking it's a family adventure film like the second trailer suggested.

We found this to be an entertaining movie overall. The imagery and cinematography can be quite striking. The scenery is beautiful and makes for great eye candy. It looks and feels like a story from 20,000 years ago, more so than something like "10,000 BC." We managed to get invested in the tale of this young man's survival, as well as his bond with his wolf friend. Sometimes, the visual effects can be hit or miss. Much of the movie looks wonderful, but it does venture into video game animation territory where some of the animals and fly-over sequences are concerned. Kodi Smit-McPhee does a fantastic job bringing the character of Keda to life. We had some doubts about him being able to carry a movie by himself, but he sure proved us wrong. Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson also has some very impactful and emotional scenes as Tau, and we really liked his performance as Keda's father. We completely sympathize with him when he thinks he has lost his son, and Jóhannesson never overdoes it. The story can get repetitive towards the end of its runtime. Keda regularly faces new obstacles to overcome on his journey home, whether it be the weather, a lack of food, or a saber-toothed cat. It gets to the point where the stakes aren't very high because we know how it's going to end. Speaking of the ending, it does go on a little bit longer than we expected. It drags out a bit too far past its ultimate conclusion to really drive home the fact that this is a movie about the beginning of the human/dog relationship we have come to know and love.
"He leads with his heart, not with his spear." (Image Source)
We found "Alpha" to be a surprisingly enjoyable viewing experience, though it could have been a tad bit truncated at times to avoid repetition.

My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
MDB's Rating: ~7.1/10
RT Rating: ~81%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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