Alpha: An Epic Summer Sleeper About A Caveboy And His Dog
Alpha is one of those films that very nearly flew below the radar. Based upon it’s limited marketing, which falsely presented the production as a kids’ film and shielded its use of subtitles, it would appear that Sony didn’t have any faith in this taunt, epic adventure film directed by none other than Albert Hughes (Dead Presidents, Book of Eli). And, it’s a shame Alpha didn’t get the studio backing that it rightly deserved because it’s the summer sleeper about a boy and his dog that you’ve always wanted, even if you never asked for it.
When Keda (played by Kodi Smit-McPhee) is separated from his tribe (of which is father is the leader) after a brutal hunting mishap, he attempts to make it back home using the survival wisdom bestowed upon him from his father, Tau (played Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson). After reluctantly taming a lone wolf abandoned by its pack, the pair learn to rely on each other and become unlikely allies, enduring countless dangers and overwhelming odds in order to find their way home before winter arrives.
Essentially, it’s the story of how the canine became known as Man’s best friend (which I admit, sounds pretty hokey), but it’s wrapped in this gut-wrenching survival story that is equal parts thrilling and emotionally compelling. Honestly, it plays like a blend of The Revenant with regard to riveting survival tales and Mad Max: Fury Road with regard to its aesthetics and engrossing action sequences (which is why I affectionately dubbed it Revenant Junior: Furry Road).
The “boy and his dog” aspect was really effective here thanks to Smit-McPhee who really sells it on the performance. Although, I was an easy target, being a dog lover by nature; however, I couldn’t shake the notion that Alpha was a better dog film than Isle of Dogs from my head while I was watching the film — it may not be nearly as intricate, but it reached me on an emotional level, which is more than Isle was capable of arousing.
The film never ceased to surprise me as it continuously unfolded in clever and intriguing ways, and despite its sometimes tacky CGI manicure, it's gorgeously rendered and chock full of moments of visceral tension. Hands down, it’s one of the most gorgeously photographed films that I’ve seen so far this year; it looks like an episode of Planet Earth with darker, more sharpened edges and a cohesive narrative.
My only real problem with the film was how it was paced in the first act. It begins with an harrowing, edge-of-your seat action sequence, and then goes back in time to set up the tribe and the father/son dynamic prior to the hunting incident. This slows the film down quite a bit before returning to the opening scene, which is shown to us again via key moments in snappy edits.
Aside from this one instance of flashback, the film remains totally linear, and I think I would’ve enjoyed it more without this bouncing back in time because it would’ve been an even bigger punch in the face. That being said, the film totally blindsided me and exceeded any and all expectations.
In short, if you ever wondered what the first game of tug or fetch looks like, Alpha is the film for you. It manages to be epically delightful, serving up adrenaline thrills and heartwarming moments. Just know that while its marketing was aimed at children, it pushes the boundaries of PG-13 films with some gnarly moments of injury and peril, so understand that before taking your little one.
Rating: 4.5 domesticated wolves outta 5.
What did you think? Did Alpha surprise you as well? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!