Film: “Alpha”; Director: Albert Hughes; Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Johannes Haukur Johannesson, Leonor Varela, Natassia Malthe, Priya Rajaratnam and Jens Hulten; Rating: ***1/2
Director Albert Hughes’ “Alpha” is a simple, easy-to-relate, survival and bonding story. It is a coming-of-age tale of a lone survivor who bonds with a wolf and reunites with his family after spending seasons apart. It is a slice-of-life in the time of the hunter and the hunted.
Set in Europe 20,000 years ago during the last Ice Age, the film directly introduces us to Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a sensitive young man who is out on his first hunt with his tribe’s most elite group.
The first thirty minutes you get to see the relationship he has with his parents, especially his father Tau (Johannes Haukur Johannesson), who is the leader of the tribe. His father wants him to be a brave heart like him. So, when you break down the scenes, you realise that the concerned father is just gearing his son to grow up and become a man, because nature is merciless. He constantly coaxes his son to prove his worth and tells him, “To survive we must focus and be patient.”
He also warns him with his primitive philosophy, “Life is for the strong. It is earned, not given.”
But Keda is soft-hearted and his mother is aware that her son would, “lead his tribe with his heart not spear”.
His father’s warnings come handy for Keda when he is separated during the expedition. How he survives the separation, forms the crux of the tale.
The film is brilliant in parts. Keda’s separation from his tribe is jaw-dropping and is certainly the highlight of the film. After he survives this first bout of obstacles and tames the wolf who he christens Alpha, his journey tends to become predictable as his conflicts don’t escalate the difficulty scales. Just when you think he’s in real danger, he escapes fairly easily and the film progresses in a smooth, breezy way. The end too, just plateaus into an affable family reunion.
Mounted as a minimalistic film, the film is naturally slow-paced as there’s nothing going on beneath the surface to engage the viewer. The dialogues too are few and far between, in a language specially created for this cinematic Universe. So one has to read the subtitles to ensure that you understand the proceedings.
What definitely keeps you glued to the screen, is the mesmerising camerawork. Shot on an IMAX camera with lens ranging from tight-close-ups to wide-angled frames, the visuals are simply marvellous. The live action shots mesh aesthetically with the computer generated images and the 3D effects elevate the viewing experience.
Kodi Smit-McPhee is a brilliant actor. He emotes effectively with his eyes and you instantly bond with him. But the script itself does not allow him to reach his full potential. Nevertheless, you feel his pain as he struggles through his journey.
Overall, while survival films are the most challenging films to pull off, “Alpha” is certainly a well-made film that will hold your interest till the very end.