As humans, we’re hard-wired to spend our days seeking connection. Our factory setting is stubbornly stuck on ‘companionship, please!‘ So what happens when you wake up one Tuesday afternoon to discover everyone around you has left? Their bodies remain, but the souls that once gave them life are long gone. What do you do? That’s the question we begin with in Reed Morano’s I Think We’re Alone Now. And if you’re anything like the introspective Del (Peter Dinklage), well, you clean house.
When we first meet our protagonist, it’s clear that whatever happened was a while ago. Weeks, or maybe months. Long enough for him to have reached the stage of acceptance, anyway. Del is the last man on Earth, and now he’s just going with it. Roaming from house to house, his days are spent rummaging through the remnants of a world he once knew. For every piece of trash that he picks up is “one less source of chaos,” and gives him a little bit of agency in this newfound life of un-requested solitude.
With each house comes the inevitable body or two, the town’s former inhabitants now looking dried up and hollow. And it’s a testament to director/cinematographer Reed Morano’s skill that each shot containing one of these corpses is at once unsettling and strangely beautiful. A standout early in the film is an unbroken shot of a body wrapped in a bubble gum blanket as Del drags them to their final resting place. It’s a startling image, made all the more tragic when thinking about the history of that blanket and the unseen child it likely belonged to.
This is Del‘s new life. When he’s not acting as undertaker, he’s wandering the empty streets of the town he’s chosen to stay in. Or perusing the shelves of a nearby library. He ends his evenings with a glass of wine and dinner-for-one at a large empty table. The window behind him revealing a sun that continues to set, and a world that continues to turn. He is alone.
Until he isn’t.
While going to bed that night, he hears a noise. And it’s not a natural one. He makes his way to the window, where he’s suddenly bathed in the red and gold light of fireworks. Someone else is out there. And it isn’t until the next morning when he finally finds her. Cautiously inching toward a recently crashed and smoking car, Del spies a young woman in the driver’s seat. Unconscious, but alive.
Shaken and confused, he takes her to the house he’s staying in, bandages her head, and locks her in the bedroom. Perhaps the least believable thing about this post-apocalyptic film is that Peter Dinklage would be so afraid of a Fanning sister, but I understand where he’s coming from nonetheless. I can’t imagine the equilibrium-shaking realization that you aren’t actually the only human left alive. The scenarios that must run through your head. But thankfully Elle Fanning’s Grace is harmless, and now he has an unexpected companion. Whether or not he actually wants it is a separate, and complicated, issue.
Del has already made peace with his new life, perhaps even enjoyed it a little, (“what do you miss most?” chatty Grace asks. “The quiet,” he deadpans.) He’s long been submitting to a life of solitude, and now the threat of companionship is brewing a strange mix of reluctance and resentment, but eventually maybe even relief. If there’s only one other person on the planet and you’re lucky enough to have found each other, well, it’s natural you’d form an intense bond. Especially when your new partner in crime is someone as inherently likable as Fanning or Dinklage. Both of whom bring a different energy to their respective performances, and remain thoroughly watchable throughout.
In contrast to Del‘s morose, almost curmudgeonly demeanor, Grace seems to carry herself with a little more energy. There’s a lightness still present in her, uncommon in someone who probably thought they were the only person alive until yesterday. And it may or may not have to do with the scar on the back of her neck that she’s been casually hiding from Del. Yes, Grace has a bit of a secret. And no, it’s not that she’s secretly an ’80s teen pop sensation (sorry guys, the titular song is nowhere to be found here).
“One thing to admire about [I Think We’re Alone Now] is its willingness to morph into a story that’s different from the one you may have expected going in. “
One thing to admire about this quiet tale is its willingness to morph into a story that’s different from the one you may have expected going in. That’s not to say there’s a big, genre-shifting twist to be found. But what begins as a post-apocalyptic story of loneliness turns into a tale of the measures we take to save ourselves from our own grief. It’s a cerebral sci-fi for the indie set. The type of sci-fi so grounded in realism that I feel uncomfortable calling it sci-fi, lest you start picturing Tom Cruise punching robots or something.
Morano’s first feature, Meadowland (2015) explored the aftermath of a child’s disappearance. She went on to direct and executive produce the first three episodes of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and now with her second feature, she continues to explore the everyday horrors of the human condition with nuance and depth. Here she’s somehow able to subvert expectations by coming at us with the expected poignancy, but from a direction we weren’t anticipating. And from a genre standpoint, it won’t scare you or anything, but she infuses this character-study with small moments that are hard to define because they’re so rich with implications. And I’ll just say a scene at a breakfast table had me shocked, sad, and deeply unsettled in the span of a few minutes. I Think We’re Alone Now isn’t easy to define, but it’s an interesting journey worth taking, and Reed Morano is a film maker worth trusting.