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Alpha is probably a film that you may not have heard of. If you were lucky enough to see the trailer for it you may have even passed it off as a cheap Disney film that should be on the Disney channel late at night when no one is awake. At least that was how I felt when I saw the marketing for the film.
Then I watched it and realized just how wrong I really was, and just how atrocious the marketing for this film really was. Alpha is easily one of the top three films that I have seen in the cinema this year (having seen nearly 35 so far).
If I were to give a classic pitch of the film, imagine The Revenant only child friendly with a dog as a companion. There are no words I can use in the English language that could properly articulate just how much I ended up loving this film. I will try.
The story of Alpha takes place thousands of years ago near the time of the Ice age, where a young boy gets separated from his people during a hunting trip and has to make his way back to the village while winter is setting in by himself. Along the way he befriends a wolf where a bond develops and we are shown of the origins of the connection we have to our K-9 counterparts.
The first thing that you notice about this film is that it is beautifully shot—it is a marvelous visual treat. The establishing shots are breathtaking, and if you pause the film at any point, take a screen shot and print it out, you could hang it on your wall and not make it feel out of place. It is a visual treat that so far this year I believe is unsurpassed. Being directed by Albert Hughes, who with his brother directed Book of Eli, really flexes his visual story telling muscles here. The usage of slow motion in the film is so well executed that it may have made Zack Snyder blush. In fact, there was a particular shot that was very reminiscent of 300. Seeing it in IMAX truly made the experience worth while.
The music in the film was stellar being made use to the point were each moment in the journey felt grand. In addition, the moments of silence were masterfully placed, especially at the end of the film where the silence had the same effect as a thousand trumpets blaring.
Kodi Smit-McPhee as Keda gave a solid performance considering it was mainly him in isolation, or interacting with the wolf through a majority of the films run time. As did all the human cast in the film. An added touch that was present that I felt was welcome was the fact that none of the human characters actually spoke English and that every thing was written for us in subtitles. This made the film seem even more real than it would have been if they chose to take the easy way out and simply use English.
The pace of the film is fantastic and the time that Keda spends with the wold is fantastic to watch and seeing their relationship develop, the emotions that are present between the two of them by the end is so moving and their trials feeling so real that through the entirety of the second half of the film I was struggling to hold back tears and break down completely. It manages all this in just ninety minutes.
My one criticism of the film is that it starts with the action set piece where things go wrong and travels back to a flashback, which in the grand scheme of things felt unnecessary and felt so much like something done as an afterthought.
Ultimately this is a film that is unfortunately under performing in the box office, and having seen it and having loved it as much as I have, I urge anyone to go watch it if it is available to watch. If you have the option, watch it in IMAX. If you are reading this after it has been pulled from cinemas, stop reading this and go watch it.