A guilty pleasure I’ve had since I was a little kid has been to watch low-budget horror films, including those I’ve never heard of. So I have had a field day with Netflix (and Amazon), watching wide and ever-changing selection of indie horror films that played two days in Peoria or went straight to video.
I pride myself at picking the right horror films to gamble my time on, by dissecting the creepy title, contemplating the premise (and deciding whether I can stomach still another found-footage film with imbecile characters or a post-apocalyptic quarantine film with imbecile characters), and checking out the critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes (with the realization that I don’t agree with most critics views on this genre). However, I admit that my ability to choose horror films on Netflix that I won’t complain about in the morning has been dismal.
Are you having the same problem? If so, I can recommend one film that has recently appeared on Netflix. Here Alone. It’s actually the rare Netflix horror film I already know about because I saw it at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival. Perhaps the first zombie art film, it was my surprise find at the festival, an exciting, well-acted, cleverly-directed post-apocalyptic thriller that deftly balances action and thought-provoking subtlety. And the zombies are cool. I didn’t recognize the name of the lead, Lucy Walters–I didn’t know she was the young woman who makes sensual eye contact with Michael Fassbender in the subway in Shame and I hadn’t watched Power, her series on Starz (from which she has since been be killed off). Walters (who of late has been in TV series Get Shorty, Falling Water, and Z: The Beginning of Everything) is a terrific lead in a grueling role, a real discovery, and I thought I alone had made the great discovery of the festival’s sleeper. But Here Alone would win the TFF Audience Award!
The synopsis from the press notes: “Deep in New York’s upstate wilderness, Ann (Walters), a young woman in her late 20s, struggles to survive after a mysterious epidemic decimates society. On the constant brink of starvation, Ann leads an isolated and regimented life. Haunted by memories of her past [her husband Jason (Shane West) was killed by those infected with the rage virus and she killed their baby when it was infected], she battles the current blood thirsty threat that lurks just outside of the forest’s borders, those that the epidemic infected….[A] chance encounter brings Olivia (Gina Piersanti), a teenage girl, and her injured stepfather, Chris (Adam David Thompson), into Ann’s life and regimen of survival….While Ann and Chris grow close, Olivia becomes bitter…”
When I did this interview with the charming Lucy Walters soon after the festival, I thought Here Alone had a good chance for wide distribution. Because it virtually disappeared, I am pleased that at least it is now streaming on Netflix. Take a look!
Danny Peary: For the lead in Here Alone did you audition?
Lucy Walters: No, I was not asked to.
DP: I read that the director, Rod Blackhurst, tweeted you.
LW: That’s right. I have no idea why he thought of me. He might have seen what I’d done, but there are a lot of other actors as well. My guess is that the producer Noah Lang had a hand in it. That’s a very good question and I’m not sure I want to know the answer. These things are so serendipitous. My reps were not excited about it at first. But I knew some of Rod’s friends so he was vetted to some degree and then I Skyped with him and was really taken with him. Then I thought, “Why not? Let’s just do it.”
DP: Had you seen Rod’s short, Alone Time, about a young woman from the city who camps alone out in the wilderness?
LW: I just watched it recently. He talked about it as being the genesis of Here Alone. It was also filmed upstate.
DP: I know he also met Gina Piersanti, who plays Olivia, by tweeting her. But were you the first cast?
LW: I think so. I’m not sure when they first spoke to Gina but I know they didn’t think the shooting dates would work for her. Eventually they did work out.
DP: I saw this movie by default–nothing else was playing at that time in the morning, at the Tribeca Film Festival, and was really surprised by how good it is.
LW: I think we were all surprised by it. Even when you read the script, you don’t know what it’s going to be. I’ve read great scripts that were executed poorly and mediocre scripts that were turned into good movies. You just don’t know because a movie is a huge machine with so many parts. Even with a great director and great editor, you just don’t know.
DP: You probably took this film partly because it was a lead role for you, but if you were already a big star and this script came to you, do you think you would have wanted to do it?
LW: So much of it is the people you’ll work with. Who do you want to go into a foxhole with? If you trust the people you will work with, the other stuff is irrelevant. I was hungry to take a part like Ann after being immersed for three years in Power. And I love playing Holly. I had normally been cast as the sweet girl and Holly is certainly not that. She’s trouble. She is so different from Ann. You’d think that an extreme, midnight zombie movie shouldn’t be realistic, but Ann felt way more aligned with who I actually am than Holly. She is not a woman who leads her sexuality, she is not a woman who engages in quippy banter. She just is just s survivor. She just does what it takes to survive. You know, I live my life with a furrowed brow just trying to get through it. So I related to that and her. There’s nothing cute or sexy or anything. She is just taking life very seriously. It’s different circumstances but I take life way too seriously and just getting food some days feels like enough. It’s New York City, and if you get food and do the laundry in a day it’s like whew! It’s Ann’s grit that I responded to.
DP: What did you and Rod talk about in terms of this character? Did he want you to understand her more than he did?
LW: Because this was a small film, Rod was doing everything. So there wasn’t a lot of time for us to get into who these people are. We did a little bit. We Skyped and had some conversations. He gave me a lot of information on what the disease was like that created the zombies. He really wanted this to seem real. But where Anne is emotionally, he let me figure a lot out for myself. I was in a weird place, I was coming straight from another film. That was all-night shoots, and you start to lose your mind when you don’t sleep for two weeks. So I was deeply depleted when we started this film. Also I was in the middle of my own breakup. So I still was not sleeping during the time we made Here Alone. Which was crazy because filming it was so exhausting. Needless to say, I had done work to figure out where she was but at the end of the day it didn’t matter because I was in my own weird state and that informed her. I had mapped it out, but it was enough to be wrestling with what I was wrestling with because it showed through. That’s why I like this type of storytelling. It doesn’t have to be so demonstrative.
DP: Are you glad it was done with flashbacks, showing Ann, her husband and baby flee the city because of the epidemic and try to survive in the wilderness. rather than chronologically?
LW: Maybe it did help. We shot in the dead of winter in the hopes that there would be snow. I wonder if it was hard for the audience members to tell what are flashbacks but for me the actor, it was nice because the flashbacks didn’t contaminate each other. I think it would have been fine no matter what we did.
DP: Did Rod see himself as any of the characters, including Ann? He did grow up in the Adirondacks.
LW: He never talked about that. Then again, he didn’t write he screenplay, David Ebeltoft did. None of them talked about it. But Rod is an outdoors guy.
DP: Gina Piersanti’s Olivia and Adam David Thompson’s Chris don’t show up until midway through the movie, but were they on the set the whole time?
LW: When I first came, it was just me. I had a long road trip with the director to where we filmed in Corning, New York. While he and the crew were in pre-production, I learned how to shoot a gun. Gina and Adam came probably four or five days after I had been there by myself. Which was probably good because it was Ann’s world that they were entering. Gina’s great and I loved working with her. Adam, too. is such a great guy. I’d known him previously and we were already friends.
DP: Between the time Ann’s husband is killed by zombies and she kills her baby and the arrival of Chris and his stepdaughter Olivia, does Ann talk to herself?
LW: Not much. A little bit. She does some counting and a little bit of muttering.
DP: Does she worry about her sanity?
LW: Probably, but like I said, she’s not worried about her own health. She is in a pragmatic way, trying to get through the day, but she certainly isn’t trying to make this cushier for herself. She thinks she has to pay penance.
DP: We talked about Alone Time, which Rod Blackhurst and David Ebeltoft cowrote. They also have another unfilmed project with Elgin James called North. It’s about a parolee who rides a bike up the California coast to figure out what it means to be free. He has a goal and kind of least an abstract destination. But Ann doesn’t really have anything in her life.
LW: She’s just made a prison for herself and I think a lot of her self-flagellating is because she’s not getting over her guilt from killing her sick baby.
DP: Does she fear dying?
LW: No. I think in some ways the easy thing to do would be to just kill herself or just let it end. In some ways, her living through this is a form of punishment.
DP: She had been a nurse. Where does that fit in?
LW: There’s a toughness to being a nurse and there’s a toughness to Ann. I remember reading the script and thinking, “Wouldn’t it be more interesting if she came from a cushier life?” We chose things like Ann’s underwear. She would have frilly, lacy bras. That made sense to me. This is a woman who isn’t in her world but Jason’s—this isn’t fun for her. She’s a person who likes sweet, fun things. She’d choose the frilly bra not the practical bra. That’s a key for me, that this woman trying to survive in the wilderness isn’t who Ann is, although she proves to be tough enough to survive. There’s a toughness to someone who can be a nurse, and that I’m so impressed by. She can’t be squeamish, she has to get things done.
DP: She also proves to be nurturing to the injured Chris and tries be almost motherly with Olivia.
LW: Ann clearly is nurturing and she’s a caregiver but not in a gooey way.
DP: Ann and Chris are drawn to each other, but they don’t seem to see what we see, that Olivia is attracted to her step-father and is jealous.
LW: Yeah, I guess they do drop the ball by not picking up on that. But I guess Ann might be taking on a more motherly role with her….actually I don’t know what’s going to happen between Ann and Olivia moving forward.
DP: The synopsis in the press notes concludes: “As an uneasy tension grows, their lives are threatened when the protective forest is breached by the infected. Under attack, Ann is forced to confront her past.” That’s not right is it?
LW: Hmm. No. She’s always confronting her past, it’s 24-hour guilt.
DP: In the flashbacks, she seems to love her husband Jason, but not a lot. I think he annoys her. Is that true?
LW: They wanted the script to show that their relationship was not great. Jason’s proposal was not great. This was not a great love to begin with and now they’ve become roommates. They’re trying to do the right thing by being with each other. They have a baby.
DP: I wonder if her guilt is only in regard to the baby and not about her husband, who got killed by zombies when she insisted he go out at night in search of food.
LW: I’m sure she has guilt about both of them. As much as she resented him, it sure was nice to have a teammate.
DP: All of a sudden she gets a new family when Chris and Olivia arrive. Is that how you see it?
LW: Certainly not at first. It takes a little while for her to judge their intentions.
DP: Not long. I think she is pretty welcoming.
LW: I guess you’re right. That first scene when she saves him, she does not have to do that, but that’s her nature.
DP: Was it ever mentioned on the set that you were making something different from The Walking Dead?
LW: They tried to never talk about it because they were trying to do their own thing. I actually haven’t seen that show!
DP: Ann flees a deserted house with some food she took and some fast-moving zombies give chase. Did you realize how it was being filmed, how the zombies behind you would be blurry and sort of shadowy?
LW: No. I remember wondering and hoping for the best. I didn’t want it to be a B-horror film but without the budget to do special effects, I just wondered about the quality.. I remember trusting them and choosing to believe that it was going to work.
DP: It’s not a zombie movie, really. It’s a survival movie.
LW: I agree. Going back to my subway scenes in Shame, I think the most powerful things are those that were not spelled out for us. So our imaginations are what make it interesting, our imaginations projecting onto what is happening—with no dialogue in our scene at the beginning of Shame, or what these zombies actually look like if we could see them clearly. Somehow when you actually see them toward the end of the movie, the fear dissipates a little.
DP: Was the nudity hard to do?
LW: Here’s the deal, I was scared of nudity for a very long time. Film is permanent. It is out there and there are just so many icky sites. So much for having to be a shape shifter, because once it’s out there, there’s no reason for putting on your push up bra anymore. There it is. In a weird way, nudity is kind of liberating. It took me a long time to get there. After Power, this was a piece of cake. That has a lot of nudity and it’s all sexualized and was very scary to do. In Here Alone, the nudity isn’t sexualized. It’s realism. It’s not trying to be a hot body. That’s a scary thing to do, to never feel like you’re enough. And this one was just realism. The nudity is just in service of the role. There were moments that I was clear that I didn’t want the nudity to be all gratuitous and if it wasn’t necessary, I really didn’t want it to be in there. I didn’t want to throw a big stink, but I had to trust that if Rod told me it wasn’t gratuitous then it wasn’t. It’s a tricky thing, but I’m trying to become more European about saying, “f__k it.” Besides being very cold, I’m getting way more comfortable with it.
DP: I thought when Ann washes off the mud from her nude body that it was a brave scene for you. There’s a metaphor. She can never clean off the guilt. And what this woman has to go through when she is caked in mud. Was that part of what you were thinking?
LW: Yeah, and I sort of like the idea of going all the way. There’s nothing more vulnerable than that. There’s no skimping. You’ve got to get raw and filthy. You had to go all the way for this film and I like that.
DP: Well, all other actors can complain about what they’ve gone through in movies, but you can always say, “I did this!”
DP: If this movie was made by a lousy director, it could have been a lousy movie.
LW: It’s about trust. And sometimes I have to take a leap of trust because I didn’t really know him, but there’s something to Rod that I did respond to.
DP: Where does Here Alone fit into your career?
LW: I’ve always wanted to do independent films and I want to do bigger and more substantial roles. I’d like to think that this will open the door to make that more possible. I have a lot of pride in this movie.
Danny Peary has published 25 books on film and sports, including Cult Movies and Jackie Robinson in Quotes.