Starting tomorrow, John Hyams’ survival horror tale Alone is headed to theaters and VOD platforms everywhere, courtesy of Magnet Releasing. Written by Mattias Olsson and starring Jules Willcox and Marc Menchaca, Alone follows a grieving widow named Jessica (played by Willcox), who is looking for a fresh start in a new town, but while on the road, she crosses path with a mysterious man (Menchaca) who abducts her, and Jessica must find a way to survive his deadly game of cat and mouse.
Daily Dead recently had the opportunity to speak with Hyams about his latest project, and during our interview, he discussed how he initially got involved with Alone and how Steven Spielberg’s Duel was a huge inspiration to him as well. Hyams also chatted about his approach to the film’s story and his thoughts on how timely Alone ended up being, even if it originally had been made back in 2017.
Great to speak with you, John. You’re no stranger to the world of creating really great tension in your films, and these really fantastic knock-down-drag-out set pieces, too. Was the script for Alone brought to you or was this something you found? I'm curious what clicked for you in terms of coming on board as the director.
John Hyams: Well, the script was brought to me through a producer, Mike Macari. I had met him before, and he got it to me through reps. And I think, as you mentioned, the Universal Soldier movies that I did, I think after having the experience of doing those movies, I was really interested in something that delved a little more into suspense, and character, and that rather than having action be something that is going to be a constant through the story, but rather use action to punctuate tension and to move more into that genre. When I read the script, it immediately reminded me of some of my favorite movies and that it would tip its hat to those movies and those stories, and then always take the movie in another direction.
So, I think when you start reading the script, the first thing you think of is Duel, which has always been one of my favorite movies. I always wanted to do something like that that was so stripped down. In the case of Duel, it's literally a one-hander, it's a guy and a truck. And this one, it created this two-hander and it was able to sustain that all the way through. So I just felt like this was a great way to test myself as a filmmaker and try to not rely so much on just the volume of violence, but rather the sustained threat of violence. And so that's what really attracted me to it.
You mentioned characters, which I really appreciate about this film is that we know who Jessica is through these pieces of her life that are peppered throughout the film. But even with “The Man,” even though he's a character shrouded in mystery, there is a sense of who he is that we get secondhand, and then it's just a really great back and forth between the two of them. Can you discuss finding those character beats for them, but yet ultimately you're not throwing a ton of exposition at viewers? You keep the story moving, but you never have to slow down for the character stuff.
John Hyams: Well, I think that's it. To me, what was really important and what I really wanted to explore is that I firmly believe, in general, that character is not necessarily revealed through words and dialogue. Often we do that as a crutch in movies and television, where a character announces their intentions, but I often feel like dialogue is really how we often obscure our feelings. I think character is really revealed through behavior, and so I thought this was a great way to explore that. And I agree with you, I think what I loved, and I think the scene that really hooked me was this phone conversation that Marc Menchaca's character has, where we learn something about him beyond what we thought. It comes almost midway through the movie, meaning it's revealing something about him and helping us understand the life he has beyond what we've been seeing, and suddenly that gave massive stakes to his character as well, even though he's obviously an incredibly dark character and a villain.
As I often talked about with Jules and Mark, in thinking about what's going on with the man's character, this is actually not only the worst day in her life, it's the worst day in his life, too. Things are not going according to plan and he's got a lot to lose. I thought the script created these stakes, which I think makes it an enjoyable sparring match between the two, that they're both constantly using the other one's vulnerabilities against them. They're fighting a very cerebral battle as well as a physical one, and neither of them are dumb. They both actually have to be very cunning and even manipulative at times to get under the other's skin and to draw the other one out. So to me, I think that's as enjoyable as anything physical going on in the story.
I know we're already getting close on time, but did it all resonate with you, the timeliness of this movie, when you were making it? It's a great genre piece, but ultimately I think it's going to resonate with a lot of people because of how timely it feels, especially considering how disconnected we are and how women in general have to often live their lives in fear.
John Hyams: Absolutely. I think anything we do in any thriller is ultimately going to reflect the time when you make it. We actually shot this in the fall of 2017, so our country had already taken a dark turn, and I have two daughters and a wife, all whom I love very much. And seeing the hostility that people face in the world just for being women is something that is, again, something that we can use in the genre setting to create tension and horror, but also to create a character like Jessica, who is not someone who makes bad decisions and does something where you're yelling at the screen and saying, "Don't do that." No, she's, I think, exhibiting a lot of caution and intelligence, and yet still this confrontation is inevitable.
First of all, I very much wanted to make a movie with a woman at the center of it, a woman protagonist, a woman hero. I've been doing these very male stories, and ultimately I think those stories were about misguided aggression. That's where I always ended up in those movies. I always thought they were indictments of violence, even though they were in genres that were celebrating it, and to take a female perspective in this, I was getting tired of just making stories about men beating each other up. I wanted to look a little deeper into this hostility that exists in the souls of a lot of men, and how do they reckon with it? How do we deal with it? What is the price of it? So yes, of course, it's a movie that people should enjoy as a thriller and it's a ride, but I think there is something about the core of it about men and women sharing this world together that I thought was something I wanted to explore.
Visit our online hub to catch up on our previous coverage of Alone, including Caitlin Kennedy's review and Heather Wixson's interviews with co-star Jules Willcox and Marc Menchaca.