By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Emily Bennett, Emma Myles and Darcy Cadman
Written and directed by Emily Bennett and Justin Brooks
ALONE WITH YOU doesn’t specifically take place during the pandemic lockdown (a key subplot has someone calling its protagonist from a crowded bar), but its creators have turned the restrictions of shooting during that period in New York City to their effective advantage. Essentially a one-character/one-location horrific psychodrama of the type dating back to Roman Polanski’s REPULSION, it feels very modern while expressing the traumas of isolation through an engrossing lead performance and imaginative use of the restricted space.
Now in select theaters and debuting today on VOD, digital and DVD, ALONE WITH YOU was shot by filmmakers Emily Bennett (who also stars) and Justin Brooks in their own apartment, often with themselves as the only crew. (You can read about its creation in RM #204, now on sale.) With Brooks as cinematographer, they use varied and evocative lighting to tell the story of Charlie Crane (Bennett), a makeup artist living in Brooklyn with her partner, photographer Simone (Emma Myles). Revealing details, like a seductive note on the refrigerator, and judicious use of flashbacks fill in the couple’s backstory, with a recent sour note when Charlie spied Simone walking closely with the handsome Robert (Darcy Cadman). Nonetheless, Charlie is looking forward to Simone’s return from an out-of-town job.
Then things start getting a little weird. The apartment door gets stuck, rendering Charlie unable to leave–an apparent recurring problem. She hears sounds of passion, then distress, through a floor-level vent. And a shadowy presence lurks and skitters in the background, momentarily leading Charlie to believe Simone is back. Meanwhile, her friend Thea (Dora Madison) keeps FaceTiming and insisting Charlie come out and join her, and Charlie also Skypes with her religious, judgmental mother (Barbara Crampton)–a conversation that goes inexorably downhill in a tense, well-played scene with telling little details, as when mom mistakes the red wine on Charlie’s lips for lipstick.
Whether Charlie is descending into an alcoholic fugue, trapped in some kind of purgatory or simply losing her mind is a question about which we’re kept guessing through most of ALONE WITH YOU’s running time. More observant viewers may be able to figure out the story’s endgame in advance based on a couple of the film’s more bluntly horrific moments, but even in that case, Bennett’s fully committed performance keeps us caught up in her mental and emotional plight. Redressing their living space with appropriate props, given Charlie and Simone’s professions, that are also good for spooky moments (including a neat bit involving a wall-mounted photograph), Bennett and Brooks transform it into a miniature, inescapable haunted house.
Their expressive visuals and the adroit editing by Brooks and Ward Crockett are enhanced by Phil Mossman’s discordant score and the unsettling sound design by Shawn Duffy and Nicole Pettigrew. By the film’s end–a number of meaningful cutaways to a starkly deserted beach notwithstanding–we feel as helplessly stuck in that apartment as Charlie does, and that these two up-and-coming auteurs have given us an experience that is claustrophobic in all the right ways.