Dante Aubain invites us to ‘The Alpines’, a tense, voyeuristic encapsulation of the human condition, with more twists and turns than rusted barbed wire.
The tag ‘psychological thriller’ is an oft used ‘best fit’ term to describe movies which aren’t easily pigeon-holed into any other genre, however, for ‘The Alpines’ it is the only term that fits. It is a simple, yet well executed, character-centric concept which translates into a tension ridden, claustrophobic film which grips you… tightly.
The plot follows a group of friends meeting up at a remote cabin for a somewhat impromptu reunion. Despite some vagueness over the origins of the invitation, and even a question over the ownership of the property they are staying in, the group of friends seem determined to have a good time. Once they have caught up, rekindled some old flames, smoked some, drank some, the festivities are bought to an abrupt halt when an ominous message is discovered. Scrawled on the wall, in blood no less, the message threatens to out secrets, and off friends. Some fear a stalker, others become suspicious its someone within the group; either way its serious and a problem they alone must deal with.
Good news for us, these characters, whilst perfectly relatable, are not quite balanced enough to cope. Whilst the pressure mounts, and secrets from the past begin to surface, an ethos of self-preservation begins to fracture the group. Previously tolerated flaws in character become opportunities to exploit and existing fractures in the groups dynamics become chasms.
As I’ve stated, it’s a simple concept, but its escalation surges the story forwards at a whirlwind pace. At the forefront of this is a very competent cast who play their respective parts well to ensure their characters seem functional in everyday life, but with enough of an edge to ensure that their actions at breaking point remain conceivable. The group cover a broad nature of personas, each being recognisable without feeling cliché, and with their strengths and flaws exposed through some focussed exposition in earlier scenes, you become quickly invested in the groups plight.
What I did appreciate was that, subverting typical trends in similar themed movies, the characters were there to serve the broader plot, and not the other way round. That means no obvious antagonist, no nauseating ‘morally superior’ protagonist cashing in on current social trends: no, the focus, and painstaking attention to detail is spent entirely on the wider story, and its allegory for the human condition; albeit a pessimistic one (it certainly makes you think about who your real friends are!)
In a technical sense, the film’s cinematography, locations and direction reflect similar levels of aptitude. The film opens with some frankly stunning shots. Even before the story got going there were some gorgeous panning shots of wilderness, its green carpets of forest and peaceful lakes offering tranquillity in one moment, shifting to intimidating isolation and hostile environments as quick as the weather changed. Once the plot kicks in, the location of the cabin and more importantly the juxtaposition of the space within plays a subtle but crucial part in the outcomes as staging area for the ensuing confrontation. The smallish common area accommodates a cosy atmosphere when all is well, yet a stiflingly claustrophobic ‘melting pot’ when relationships begin to sour. Perhaps a happy accident, or perhaps by design, but even the rooms, in what looked at least on the outside, to be a luxurious spacious chalet are shown to be tight, intimate spaces where alliances can be formed in secret and equally backs can be stabbed as required.
All of the above makes this movie feel organic, never forced, and once immersed, the atmosphere is never broken, right up to the films climax.
Speaking of which, here is probably the most appropriate time for me to remark on the only (slight) criticism of the overall experience, and that’s the ending, which, if I’m honest was a little too ‘obvious’ for want of a better word. Its not that you will see it coming a mile off, its just very, very neat. Given the creative nature of the rest of the movie I would have loved to have had just one final twist, something exposed which had been almost subliminal throughout. That said, what was offered up wasn’t deal breaking, just the low hanging fruit.
Overall though, in all but the most exceptional of cases, such movies always offer up a journey that overshadows its destination, and for all the reasons I’ve discussed ‘The Alpines’ is one hell of a ride. Its plot is tightly written, its execution both thoughtful and thought provoking. It might not be the most violent movie, nor the most mind-bending of premise, but in a current market packed with clichés and rehashed ideas, I can guarantee its one you’ll remember.