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D: Reed Morano / 99m

Cast: Peter Dinklage, Elle Fanning, Paul Giamatti, Charlotte Gainsbourg

In a small US coastal town, Del (Dinklage) is apparently the only survivor of a worldwide catastrophic event that has seen everyone else killed off. Something of a loner before this happened, Del has adjusted quickly to being alone, and divides his time between his job at the library, and systematically cleaning homes and disposing of bodies. He’s content, until one day he sees fireworks going off across the bay. The next day he encounters a young woman, Grace (Fanning), who has suffered a head injury in a car accident. His surprise at finding someone else alive is muted by his wanting to be alone; he tries to get Grace to move on, but she appears to be just as alone as he is. An uneasy relationship begins to develop between them, and Grace helps with the house cleanings and body disposals. Days pass in this way, with the pair coming to terms with each other’s quirks and foibles, including Del’s collecting photographs of the people who lived in the houses he’s cleaned. But it’s Grace’s story that intrudes more decisively – with the arrival of Patrick (Giamatti) and Violet (Gainsbourg)…

The second feature of cinematographer/director Reed Morano, I Think We’re Alone Now is a slow, meditative, yet absorbing examination of what it’s like to be alone, and what it’s like to want to be alone. In a muted, largely contained performance from Dinklage, Del comes across as the de facto embodiment of survivor’s guilt, taking on the responsibility of looking after the dead and their homes and belongings, as if by doing so he can atone for being alive when they’re not. No explanation is given for the apocalyptic event that has caused people to drop dead wherever they are (though not in the street apparently), and no explanation is given as to why Del hasn’t died as well. This adds to the melancholy feel of Del’s predicament, one that he’s embraced but which also feels like a guilty fait accompli. The arrival of Grace has a profound effect on him: how can he continue to feel the same way when she’s obviously happy to be alive, and this is how he should really be feeling? It’s not a question that Del – or Mike Makowsky’s screenplay – is able to answer with any authority, and before there’s any likelihood of the issue being addressed, along come Patrick and Violet to take the story in a different direction altogether.

To be fair, this narrative switch has been signposted a couple of times already by then, but when it does happen, the movie ceases to be about loneliness and becomes something else entirely. Examining what that involves would be to spoil things (mostly), but it can be noted that the movie ceases to be as effective or as absorbing as it’s been with just Del and Grace as our guides to this eerie new world (it also feels like something of a cheat, as if two competing narrative strands had been glued together for the sake of a dramatic final third). This also leaves the careful construction of the relationship between Del and Grace in limbo, and offers Del a chance to play the unlikely hero. Unconvincing as this may be, Morano, who directs in a formal yet expressive manner that adds a layer of hazy unreality to the overall mise en scene, provides moments of serene beauty but is unable to rectify the larger problems with the script. It’s a shame as Dinklage and Fanning make for a great “odd couple”, and there’s a decent enough central idea on display. But more work needed to be done on the movie as a whole, making this compelling and frustrating at the same time.

Rating: 6/10 – with its post-apocalypse background serving as the anchor for its tale of melancholy self-negation, I Think We’re Alone Now strives for resonance but falls short thanks to the vagaries of its script; good performances from all concerned are sadly not enough to prop up the movie, but Morano does more than enough to cement her growing reputation as a director to watch.

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