“He fights with his heart. Not his spear.”
Fortune cookie sentiments like this are exchanged throughout Alpha, a surprisingly solid adventure movie for its genre which relies mostly on good, old-fashioned man and beast storytelling.
Alpha opens in Europe 20,000 years ago according to the movie’s prologue and it centers on a tribe who go out to hunt for food in order to prepare for the bitter winter. The leader of the tribe (Johannes Haukur Johannesson) trains his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) to kill animals in order to survive but he doesn’t have the heart to go through with it.
One day while charging at a herd of bison, the son goes over a cliff and is presumed dead by the tribe when in reality, he’s knocked unconscious and has to journey through the elements. He comes across a pack of wolves and attacks them while noticing one of them is injured and decides to care for it. The wolf eventually comes to trust the boy and together they work to save each other.
One element that might throw audiences off is (A) its lack of dialogue and (B) it’s in another language so it’s subtitled throughout. That works in service of the story when it needs to and the rest of the movie is told through breathtaking imagery. A shot of a silhouette of a tree against a colorful sky provides a good example.
Alpha plays like a prehistoric version of The Revenant minus the brutal violence, but it follows a similar structure: Man is lost in the wilderness and he endures unforgiving climates in a desperate attempt to stay alive.
If it only followed a less conventional route with its plot, it might’ve been a little more effective. This is another movie where if something is hinted like a character (human or animal) is about to meet their demise or if some of those fortune cookie sentiments I mentioned are repeated at the opportune time, you know which direction the story is going.
Its biggest strenghs are the chemistry between its man and wolf as well as some moments of exhilarating cinematography interspersed throughout. The latter gives some terrific reasons to see it.
This is a late summer entry that does a better job in its genre than most.
(Rated PG-13 for some intense peril.)