J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Saturday, December 01, 2018

AHITH ’18: Alive


There are really no circumstances that make waking up in a hospital bed a pleasant surprise—especially this hospital. It is like something out of a horror movie. In fact, that is exactly what it is. The unnamed man and woman have no idea who they are or how they got there, but they can tell their [mad] doctor is bad news in Rob Grant’s Alive (trailer here), which screens during the 2018 Another Hole in the Head Film Festival, in San Francisco.

When the man wakes up, he feels terrible and looks even worse. His surroundings do not inspire confidence. It looks like he is being treated in an abandoned hospital with substandard sanitary conditions, as is indeed the case. After a rather ominous meeting with the mystery man in scrubs, he finds out he has a companion: a woman in exactly the same shape.

The male patient immediately suggests they plot their escape, but she is more inclined to obey and placate their dubious caretaker, until he really starts showing his sadistic craziness. However, the captive man also has concerns regarding the flashes of memory he experiences, suggesting he is some sort of thuggish convict. It is especially awkward, because the woman has had flashbacks leading her to believe she was the victim of a violent crime.

Actually, this film is not headed where you might probably be expecting. Not at all. It would be a shame to reveal too much, but hopefully we can get away with saying the seemingly nondescript title is absolutely inspired. Its big secret totally changes the context in which we see the film. Still, there is no getting around how disturbing some of the scenes of flat-out torture and body horror get. This is not a film for a horror movie starter kit. Yet, it is not really (or not just) the pain dished out that is so unsettling. It is the grim, grimy, grossness of the environment. Both the design and practical effects teams deserve considerable credit for making the forsaken hospital such an unnerving place. Frankly, viewers may seek out a tetanus shot after watching Alive.

Angus Macfadyen, the once and future Robert the Bruce (in Braveheart and an upcoming film), is surprisingly scary and altogether chilling as the medical bad guy, very much continuing the cinematic tradition of Peter Cushing’s Hammer movies and Vincent Price in AIP releases. Thomas Cocquerel and Camille Stopps are also completely convincing acting like they are in total fear and abject misery.

Alive might sound like it follows in the Saw-Hostel-New French Extremity tradition, as Charles Hamilton’s grungy cinematography would also suggest, but screenwriters Chuck McCue and Jules Vincent have devised some original and surprising twists. The film also radically alters our perception of Macfadyen (for the better). Recommended for serious horror enthusiasts, Alive screens Sunday night (12/2), as part of this year’s AHITH.

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