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Alone With Her


Alone With Her
cast: Colin Hanks, Ana Claudia Talancón, and Jordana Spiro

writer and director: Eric Nicholas

80 minutes (15) 2006
widescreen ratio 16:9
Metrodome DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
Prior to the release of the awful Jersey Girl (2004), Kevin Smith announced that his film was "not for critics." Why exactly Jersey Girl should be immune to critical evaluation was never made explicit, but it was abundantly clear that Smith thought that there was nothing the critics could offer him and so he thought that they should stay away. Alone With Her, by contrast, is a fantastic example of a film that is 'for critics' as its true beauty has really very little to do with the sensationalist tosh that writer-director Eric Nicholas intended to make.

Alone With Her is the story of a socially inadequate young man named Doug (Colin Hanks) who attempts to escape his intense feelings of loneliness by secretly filming women in parks and on beaches. The film starts with Doug putting a camera into a bag and then holding it at crotch height before setting out. This segues into a montage of up-skirt shots, shots of women sunbathing, shots of women talking and a shot of a young Latino woman named Amy (Ana Claudia Talancón) playing in the park with her dog, and reacting strongly to the sight of couples lounging around enjoying the sunshine.

This opening montage (which is even better in its longer version included as a DVD extra) is spectacular as it is entirely comprised of long shots that make up the kind of looks that you would never take in polite society; if you see a woman sunbathing you politely avert your eyes, as you would when a woman in a low-cut top bends over in front of you. Similarly, you would not stare at a woman having a mobile phone conversation. When we think we are not being watched our body language changes quite abruptly and this opening montage perfectly captures the sense of insight and power you get when people-watching. This montage not only demonstrates the allure of voyeurism by showing how a hidden camera could allow you to ogle half-naked women, it also sells you on the sense of power to be had simply by watching someone who does not know they are being watched. With this montage, we are made complicit in Doug's voyeurism. We are complicit when Nicholas shows us footage of Amy in the shower, and we are complicit when we watch Amy weeping quietly in the park. We see something that the characters would not want us to see and so we have power over them, much like Doug.

From there the film moves to Doug buying some spy equipment and installing it in her house. We learn about Amy in the same way as Doug does, by watching her living her life. Doug slowly stalks Amy and picks up information about her likes and dislikes and then arranges to be in the same coffee shop as her with a copy of her favourite DVD, giving himself an excuse to talk to her. This is the second way in which the film makes us complicit in Doug's 'seduction' of Amy as Doug's methods are similar to those used by most people who are trying to pull someone. For example, if you have a friend in common you might ask about them, if you discover their favourite film or book you might use it to start a conversation and if you know that they're going to be in a particular place at a particular time you might make sure to be there in order to get a chance to talk to them. Doug does what everyone does; he simply uses more aggressive means of gathering information. We are creeped out by Doug because his methods are twisted reflections of our own.

Once Doug meets Amy, he tries to present himself as the perfect potential boyfriend. He makes it clear what the two of them have in common, he is polite and kind and he goes out of his way to do things for her. But Doug is not a naturally charming man, in fact he is socially inept to the point where he has to rehearse his lines before he actually says them and when called upon to make small-talk with Amy's best friend, he dries up as his natural shyness takes over leaving awkward silences. This is the third time that the film makes us complicit as, again, the difference between us and Doug is shown to be but one of degree. Who has not pretended to like something they're indifferent towards in order to fit in? Who has not felt uncomfortable upon meeting people with whom your potential lover has a much longer and deeper relationship? Who has not gone out of their way to be nice to someone because they want to shag them? In Doug's rehearsal of his chat-up lines we again see the twisted reflection of our own lack of spontaneity and our own cynical plan making when trying to hook up with someone.

Alone With Her is not just a story about a stalker; it is also a commentary upon the cynical nature of much human interaction. It is a film that goes out of its way to systematically compare us to stalkers. Doug's seduction techniques are so similar to those used in normal human interaction that we are made to feel morally equivalent to him, and to ask whether the only difference between us and Doug is that Doug has used technology instead of talking to Amy's friends and checking out her FaceBook page. Indeed, the more you think about it, the more the film seems to suggest that the line between stalking and normal cynical human behaviour is an arbitrary one. Indeed, even when Doug is caught out in a lie by Amy's friend, his excuse (that he was not listening properly and just nodding along) seems utterly believable and very much a product of the white lies and bullshit that smooth over much human interaction. The mundane nature of Doug's lie is highlighted by the fact that it was needless and that it only occurred because Amy's friend stepped over the arbitrary line of how aggressively you can question people in conversation.

Alone With Her draws its power from the fact that rather than being a story about some sinister Other stalking a normal person with evil intent as in Single White Female (1992), One Hour Photo (2002), or Fatal Attraction (1987), Alone With Her's stalker is different to us only by matter of degree; Doug is clearly not a psychopath, he is just lonely and when he tells Amy he loves her there is no question about his sincerity. Why else would he have put himself to all of this trouble? By making us complicit in Doug's actions and motivation as well as some of his methods, the film is not only making us complicit in Doug's stalking of Amy, it is also suggesting that we are all stalkers and liars to one degree or another, and that is a very uncomfortable idea to sit through for 80 minutes.

The best thing about all of this is that this reading of the film seems to have completely passed by its writer-director. Indeed, the film starts with a quote from someone from the US Department of Justice telling us that surveillance equipment is worryingly easy to get hold of, and the film also includes an info-dumping scene in which Doug pointedly asks if he needs a permit to buy spy cameras and he is told that it is all legal. The fact that Alone With Her was intended as a sensationalist work of moral panic about evil technology is also made abundantly clear in the commentary track and interview of Eric Nicholas. "I'm not that smart," says Nicholas about a particularly symbolic shot, and it is easy to agree with him (particularly when he says he wanted a girl-next-door type for Amy, and suggests that Talancón is the opposite of that despite the fact that Talancón is every inch a wholesome, normal, intelligent woman... she just happens to not be white). Amusingly, the interviews with the actors suggest that even though the guy writing and directing did not understand his own film, they clearly did. "We all like to watch," grins Ana Claudia Talancón in her interview.

Opening montage aside, this is a competent rather than a brilliant film. Comparisons have been made with The Blair Witch Project (1999) but despite being supposedly made up of footage shot with tiny pinhole cameras, it is clear that Nicholas cheated and used a proper camera, only adding the web-cam effects in post-production. The acting is by and large decent without ever being exceptional but that is all that the film requires; Talancón and Hanks under-emote but this only adds to the film's sense of being 'captured reality'. The lack of dialogue, and the long scenes of Amy doing stuff about the house, also gives the film's narrative a degree of ambiguity that only serves to make it more critic-friendly. Indeed, if there were any more dialogue, I suspect that Nicholas would have been more successful in bringing home his empty-headed paean to the evils of technology.

On the whole, Alone With Her is easily one of the most effective and disturbing thrillers I have seen this year, but shhhh! Don't tell the director as clearly this was not the effect he was going for at all.

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