"strong sound editing and filming techniques are utilised in an inventive fashion that works with the small budget"
Quiet indie horror You Are Not Alone is a film that surpasses its means by doing a lot with a limited budget, providing genuine terrors and creeping malice initially interspersed with complete normality, where director Derek Mungor uses his imagination to bypass irritating clichés.
The audience see it through the eyes of Natalie (Krista Dzialoszynski), who is returning to her home town on the 4th July after graduating college. She spends the day catching with her brother Garrett (David O’Brien) and old friends before the Independence Day celebrations begin. As the parties carry on, Natalie starts to realise that there may be someone following her.
The premise is simple, as is the action. Yet several features of the film elevate it above other mediocre horror fare. First of all is the sound editing, which is highly effective. It’s crucial in a film which visually takes a first person view that in embodying a character we hear as they would, just as we see as they would. You Are Not Alone is great at that, mixing the surrounding sounds with music to really give a sense of trepidation.
It also seemed like an initial disappointment at first when the film appeared to be done in the handheld view of a camera. A frequent technique in horror and thriller films, it has utterly lost its freshness. However, You Are Not Alone is clever in just choosing to make our view literally through Natalie’s eyes - we are even deprived of a view when she shuts them.
Fortunately, this also means that we aren’t subjected to the usual convoluted explanations on film of exactly why a character has chosen to consistently use a camera. Notably, the actress herself is a camera operator by trade, and yet she does a great job in building the character of Natalie as opposed to creating an empty shell.
A lot of the shaken nerves of the viewer are brought on by the first half. It’s unashamedly a film of two halves - the first could be mistaken for a regular college movie, the second a 1970s slasher. What makes the first half excel is that it immerses you in normality, whilst dropping occasional hints in the background of the danger to come. Familiar with the genre, it’s easy to expect You Are Not Alone to drop into full horror mode within 15 minutes but this makes you wait almost an hour.
Now that artistic choice may not satisfy everyone, and may even annoy some viewers. However, there are guts in that choice, demonstrating certainty that the audience can hold on long enough to be introduced to the horror segment very gradually. Its late appearance serves to make the build up better.
Unfortunately once the horror does start; there isn’t enough time to show the villain’s motives. The film abandons all with something that is simply an overlong homage to older movies and it does make the structure lose its unique step, which is a pity.
You Are Not Alone isn’t perfect by a long shot, and is a brave gamble. The structure works initially but disappoints towards the end. Yet strong sound editing and filming techniques are utilised in an inventive fashion that works with the small budget. Die-hard horror fans may not agree, but at the end of the day, the film has got enough there to give you a decent scare.