Keda, a tribal young boy (Jodi Smit-McPhee) is left for dead by his tribe after a hunting accident in Ice Age Europe. Waking to find himself stranded upon a ledge and surrounded by multiple threats, he must make it back to his tribe before he succumbs to his injuries – and yet help will come to him in the unlikeliest form of his deadliest threat.
…a predictably snowy smorgasbord that most of the family can pick from.
Sitting down to watch a movie like Alpha is an increasingly rare pleasure. Ostensibly made for Netflix, there’s no advance hype, buzz or expectation to take into its screening. Then add to that it is a faintly rose-tinted, family-friendly drama from director Albert Hughes, that’s the same Albert Hughes who’s shepherded such gritty urbane dramas Like Menace II Society and Dead Presidents, and then you really don’t what to expect.
In the end, the result is an oddly affecting, yet simplistically attractive movie which echoes both Jack London’s Call of The Wild, the bush-tucker trials of The Revenant with the linguistic fidelity of Rapa Nui. Spoken in supposedly period-specific language throughout, subtitles are a must if you want to follow along in detail. That said, the film works just as well, if not better, if you can roll with the guttural punches and watch it without the subs. As an experiment, I watched one scene with subtitles and then again without – and the result was that the subs actually hurt the film’s potential to surprise you. So, for my take, I suggest that you, like me, discard the subtitles for the journey ahead.
What you can expect though are campfire embers to smoulder, flint blades to be carved and live maggots to be eaten will equal commitment. Aesthetically speaking, blues and yellows tend to dominate the colour palette and many of the trials that Keda must endure all pretty much come by appointment. So, in never subverting your expectations, Alpha becomes a film to chime with your Friday night wind-down rather than tear up the ‘rites of passage’ rule book. Beautifully shot and steadied by a decent performance by Jodi Smit-McPhee who was impressive in Slow West, Alpha may not be the head of the pack but it offers a predictably snowy smorgasbord that most of the family can pick from.