Despite the timing of its release, Johnny Martin’s Alone isn’t actually a film about COVID-19, nor even a film intrinsically related to the global pandemic we’re currently living through. Matt Naylor’s script, penned pre-COVID, invents a pandemic that employs the timeworn tropes of the zombie horror genre, but one that benefits from the coincidental contemporary topicality. Throughout, it’s actually something of a relief that Alone is as clichéd as it is, since clarity is neither Naylor’s forte nor Martin’s; it’s not entirely clear whether the infected in this film are still actual living humans with an incurable, cannibalistic condition or the bona fide walking dead, but either way they’re still a bloody menace. Tyler Posey — totally out of his depth — plays Aidan, a single man in a fifth-floor apartment, struggling with the twin terrors of mortal danger and crushing isolation after a mysterious worldwide outbreak. In fact, he’s not entirely alone; to his relief (and the audience’s), his complex holds at least one other living soul, Eva (Summer Spiro), a character who’s little more than a hollow plot device of similar age and attractiveness to Aidan.

It’s perhaps unfair to criticize a zombie movie for its lack of conceptual originality — there’s probably only so much you can do with the concept, and it’s possibly all been done before — but it’s wholly fair to criticize a zombie movie for its lack of adequacy across all areas. This film presents a litany of ineptitude, from hammy acting to cheap effects to ugly cinematography to cringeworthy dialogue to the simple fact that this is really just a bad idea badly realized. Posey may be saddled with line after implausible line, but it’s the actor’s job to make even the worst dialogue work, whereas his principal concerns seem to lie in nailing the perfect brow furrow for the ideal puppy-dog expression, and capitalizing on every opportunity to show off his washboard abs, comfortably the most compelling aspect of this film. To give him his dues, he knows his angles. Spiro has virtually nothing to do beyond act alternately flattered and flustered — it’s the classic damsel in distress role, no longer quite the classic characterization in 2020. It’s an absurd part, then, in an absurd film, and it could have done with an actor who appreciated that absurdity.

Yet, then there’s Donald Sutherland. Who else could be relied upon to show up partway through a ridiculous B-movie to supply it with a dose of utterly inspired adequacy? Sutherland plays another survivor in Aidan’s complex, a man with food in his cupboards and a secret in his spare room; his brief presence wrestles Alone free from its oppressive shoddiness. He isn’t exactly a stabilizing force for a film that’s gone off the rails as a bolt of lightning striking a film that never got onto the rails in the first place. Here’s a performer who, crucially, knows how to yield to bad writing, playing up that absurdity in every utterance and every action.

Still, if you’re looking for a mindless genre film with Donald Sutherland in the cast, there are a plethora of better options to choose from. He’s not merely the only decent actor in Alone’s cast, he appears to be the only decent artist on the film’s set. The banal interiors are lit with no semblance of style, rudimentary shots are spliced together with scant regard for pace or even continuity and the film has that bizarre quality of only the very worst of cinema in that it is at-once extremely simple yet often impossible to follow. Or perhaps it’s just impossible to care about these characters long enough to keep one’s eyes on the screen, sufficiently attentive to its narrative mechanics to note one meaningless development after another. Perhaps worst of all, the scariest thing about this toothless zombie movie, even in the midst of a parallel global pandemic, might be the prospect of having to sit through it at all.

Summary
If you’re looking for a mindless genre film with Donald Sutherland in the cast, there are a plethora of better options to choose from.
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