ALPHA, US, 2018, 96. Starring Kodi Smit McPhee, Johannes Haukur Johannesson. Directed by Albert Hughes. 96 minutes. Rated PG (Mild survival themes and sense of peril).
Over the decades there has been a cinema interest in prehistory including Quest for Fire and The Cave of the Clan Bear from a story by Jean Auel. The storyline of this film is more simple and straightforward.
This is a film that is seen best in the cinema, on a large and wide screen. The cinematography is impressive and striking, prehistoric landscapes, mountains and cliffs, lakes and rivers, the different seasons, snow and ice as well as the primitive village of the humans in Europe, 20,000 years ago. The landscapes were filmed in Canada, the province of Alberta.
The film opens with the men of the tribe assembling, crawling on the ground towards a herd of bison, then an attack, frightening scenes of terrified animals falling over cliffs, the role of the warriors especially when a young man is held by an animal and tossed over the cliff. Prehistoric times were not genteel.
The film then goes into flashback, focusing on the young man, a teenager, Keda (an impressive performance and screen presence by Australian Kodi Smit-McPhee). There are initiation rituals, some young men failing, others sharpening spearheads showing their priowess and for future use.
The main part of the film is the lone journey of survival for Keda. He finds water. He eats worms for sustenance. His leg is injured and he grinds herbs to make poultices for his recovery. He is pursued by a pack of wolves and takes refuge in a tree – but, one of the wolves is injured and he shares cave with the wolf, overcoming the snarling with some kindness, suggestions of empathy between the wolf and the human, Keda offering him water, hunting a rabbit and then sharing food.
Keda’s father has explained to him leadership in the tribe, the literal Alpha male – and Keda gives this name to the wolf.
The two travel together, discover a man frozen in the ice, Keda falling through the ice and Alpha helping in the rescue, confrontations with a giant bear-like beast – and the desperation of hunger as they move through the winter, snow and ice.
The film is impressive in many ways, directed by Albert Hughes (whose previous films were with his brother, Allen Hughes, Dead Presidents, From Hell, The Book of Eli). It also has an international cast with leads from Iceland in Poland.
So, an imaginative and speculative reflection on pre-history and evolutionary developments as well as human/canine bonding (which is taking the place of the rather exclusivist language of dogs as Man’s Best Friend).
Sony Released September 27th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.