Review by Craig Draheim
Director: Rob Grant
Writers: Chuck McCue, Jules Vincent
Starring: Angus Macfadyen, Camille Stopps, Thomas Cocquerel
When Ginger Nuts of Horror founder, Jim Mcleod sent this to me, he attached a message stating that he had a feeling I’d want it. While I took it as a great honor that my relationship with Jim is growing, there is a part of me that rebelled against my personal tastes being easily identifiable. But he was right. With Alive, we are thrown immediately in the situation as Male (Cocquerel) and Female Patient (Stopps) wake up in a grungy hospital, both having undergone an excessive amount of surgeries and suffering from amnesia. As they try to remember their prior lives and regain their strength, they are assisted by The Man (Macfadyen). The story unfolds as you would probably expect, with the Man being more of a tormenting captor than the “savior doctor” he claims to be. While Female Patient tries to play along the best she can, Male Patient is obviously more resistant, causing the two men to constantly butt heads. I’ve seen it, you’ve probably seen it. Yet I was there for every second. Alive succeeds mainly because of the core cast’s talent, as a good portion of the movie is with the patients in their hospital beds, while The Man tries to “mend them” through medicine, food, surgery, or physical therapy. While there are many plot elements that fall into cliché territory, especially regarding The Man’s childhood trauma and so on, Macfadyen handles it with a subtly and theatrics needed to make these mad scientist roles shine. This also is not to diminish the skill of Stopps and Cocquerel, who prove to be more than surrogates for the audience. Many reviews I’ve done recently have mentioned that while you don’t need likeable characters, they need to be compelling and the audience needs to CONNECT. I found no lack of connection or empathy here, especially with Stopps’ character. Classified as a medical horror, there is no shortage of cringeworthy parts that are extremely effective. I can watch a monster or some supernatural being tearing through people and be fine but add the realistic horror that comes with surgery and my body tenses up. I will also mention that the violence does feel earned while avoiding the crossover into “torture porn,” which can happen very quickly if handled by a less skilled writer or director.
My biggest criticism comes with the attempt at maintaining consistent tension. Normally with something like this you’ll have the healing process, where the main characters are skeptical/resistant but then have that moment of breathing room where it seems like maybe this guy isn’t completely crazy and things are getting better, which is followed by proving that the antagonist is actually sinister, then the story transitions into the terror, climax, and so on. This does not have that high point. Instead we viewers are aware at all moments he is a deranged doctor. To have us and the victims of this ordeal carry that tension for almost 90 minutes without a moment of relief ends up making it feel longer. Halfway through I was thinking they were wrapping up, because how much more could they do without falling into filler or repetition? Which it does a little. And there’s moments at the end where some of the realism is dropped as The Man becomes an unstoppable Jason-like force (chase through the woods and all) despite being stabbed a bunch and having his face stomped on. On the same note, the patients, who could barely walk the day prior, are outrunning a dog and using immense body strength in the climax. But I’m willing to chalk that up to suspension of disbelief which is even more possible thanks to the twist ending that I assume most will catch earlier on and from the title. Alive is a thrilling, fun flick that was right up my alley and may even make my top ten horror films of the year (Damn you, Jim). Without spoiling anything, it connects itself with what I believe to be the next wave of horror movies due to the success of a recent indie favorite from Glass Eye Pix, a miniseries from Netflix, and a major Blumhouse film that’s led to a whole line of planned reimagining’s. If you know what I’m hinting at and enjoy those stories, then definitely give this a try. 4 out of 5