Wednesday, September 5, 2018

[Review] Alpha

Alpha is the primal story of a boy and a beast, strength and survival. And while at times it might come off like a nature-based motivational poster that sprung to cinematic life, it's an undeniably thrilling and heartfelt journey.

Set somewhere in Europe during a prehistoric era, this tale revolves around a young boy named Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee) being raised in a tribe that's led by rugged father (Johannes Haukur Johannesson - there's a name). Let's just saw Keda isn't exactly following in his father's footsteps. The kid can't start a fire, he has a difficult time hunting animals, and the other members of the tribe view him as a weakling. Anyway, after a brutal accident involving a buffalo and a cliff, Keda is separated from the group and left to fend for himself. Along the way, he befriends a wolf, and the two attempt to get home, wherever that may be.

This is a film that boasts a stunning palette of wonderful wilderness scenery -- from the sprawling hillsides, to the rushing rivers, to the swaying valleys. It also contains some exquisite views of the sky, whether it's the bustling storm clouds, the painterly sun, or the Northern Lights and Milky Way at night. It's all backed by a hauntingly beautiful musical score. And there's a particularly intense sequence set amidst a frozen lake that really gets the heart pumping.

As for the wolf, whom Keda names "Alpha", the creature is rendered with impressively convincing CGI. And as expected with a movie like this, we grow attached to the furry canine, just as Keda does. Its teeth are sharp, but it also looks pretty cute and pettable. Keda and Alpha display a unique dynamic -- they share a mutual respect for each other, and they both have two major things in common: they're from their packs and they're dealing with significant injuries. And yet, there's the ever-present sense of fear and danger that either of them could potentially kill one another at any moment. Kodi Smit-McPhee gives a great central performance, and most of it is done without dialogue. I've found him to be a bit vanilla in past films, but he's genuinely good here.

If you're wondering if I cried during this film, I definitely did. There are many emotional moments, and there's something so incredibly stirring about seeing someone carry a wolf on their shoulders through a snowy frozen tundra. The film is also commendable because the narrative thoughtfully alters what it usually means to be an "alpha" on a number of thematic levels. As Keda's mother describes him: "He leads with his heart, not his spear." 

( 8/10 )

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