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‘Alive’ a bloody, brutal horror offering

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Memory – both its presence and its absence – has long been a central theme of the horror genre. Remembering past trauma can be truly terrifying, but so too is knowing of said trauma without being able to remember it. Amnesia offers a great deal of scary narrative possibility.

The new film “Alive,” directed by Rob Grant from a script cowritten by Chuck McCue and Maine native Jules Vincent, offers up a grisly exploration of just how that lack of memory can make a horrifying situation – one steeped in gory intensity and stirred by a wonderfully unhinged performance from Angus Macfadyen – all the more frightening.

The small cast – the majority of the film features just three actors – allows for the development of an intimacy that intensifies the impact of the gruesome actions we’re witnessing, as well as lending itself to the claustrophobic nature of the setting. And their relative anonymity – names are nebulous to the degree that they exist – offers a canvas onto which we can project ourselves.

A man (Thomas Cocquerel, “The Divorce Party”) wakes up in agony. He is badly hurt and in pain, covered in blood and unable to speak. He knows nothing about his current situation – what happened to him, where he is … or even who he is. Things only worsen when a mysterious scrubs-clad man (Angus Macfadyen, “Robert the Bruce”) appears, ostensibly there to care for the patient, but possessed of a sinister and cruel mien. This “doctor” administers treatment via unknown drugs, leaving the man to fade out of consciousness.

When he awakes, there is a woman (Camille Stopps, “Beginner’s Luck”) in a bed next to him. While she is able to speak and is in slightly better shape, she is also covered in healing wounds and has no memory of where or who she is.

The doctor claims to be the only one who can help them, even as he assiduously avoids answering their questions about their identity. There is nothing conventional about their treatment, with apparently homegrown medicines and abusive physical interactions. His obvious instability and hair-trigger temper leave the man and the woman ready to risk everything in an effort to escape.

As they wander through the abandoned hospital that has been their prison, they stumble upon evidence that they are far from the first to suffer from the “healing” put forth by their captor. Behind every darkened hallway, behind every door, another horror awaits. And all they have is one another, along with a few scattered snatches of memory that are both gauzy and galvanizing. Can they escape the clutches of a madman and find their way back to their lives?

There’s something classically simple about this movie. Two people trapped in an abandoned hospital – old-school. And I mean, there’s a literal mad doctor, for goodness sake. But that’s far from a criticism – the B-movie splatterhouse vibe to “Alive” is one of the most fun things about it. So much about it is over-the-top, but never in a haphazard way; it’s all in service to setting the scene even as it constantly tries to outdo itself.

And boy, does it ever try to outdo itself. No spoilers, but rest assured that the viscera is PLENTIFUL in this film. “Alive” gleefully leans into the goriness of it all, producing some unsettling and undeniably memorable moments. It goes hard, visually and narratively, taking a couple of big swings in both respects (swings that I will not reveal, because again – spoilers).

Perhaps the biggest key to the success of those moments is the work being done by Angus Macfadyen. He is fully, joyfully honey-baked in this film, hamming it up in the way that only London-trained actors of a certain generation can. He’s on tilt and operating at past-max capacity – shouts, screams and murmurs mixing with wild abandon. It’s absolutely perfect, with the heightened nature of his performance matching the extreme nature of his cruelty – exactly what you hope for from the baddie in a movie like this.

But even the most monstrous of monsters is nothing without victims. Cocquerel and Stopps are great as our central duo, finding ways to invite empathetic connection despite the absence of identity; they serve as wonderful audience surrogates here, inviting us in to experience the terror on their level. Their journey through ever-increasing horrors is our journey. Granted, none of it lands nearly as hard without the lodestar guidance of Macfadyen’s eye-bulging lunacy, but still – what they’re doing is deceptively difficult.

It’s fun to watch a movie so committed to being what it wants to be. It is exactly what you expect, yet also manages to have a trick or two up its sleeve. “Alive” is blood-soaked and sinister, a gory good time featuring some B-movie thrills. The film has its flaws, but you get enough from its tight 91-minute runtime to largely forgive them.

[3.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Sunday, 20 September 2020 10:31

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