Alone at Night is a failure of maddening proportions. Lead star Ashley Benson, who holds story and producer credits, clearly has something to say. A decade since starring as a neon-bikini-clad avatar in Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers (2012), Benson seems to be commenting on female sexuality. She seems interested in who trades in it, as well as who gets to command or comment on it.
James Franco fellating a gun doesn’t occur here. However, Alone at Night holds wrinkles of commentary stemming from a generation of women who didn’t get fair treatment in how their bodies were sexualised. Despite the fact these women may have landed themselves in careers in which being sexually objectified became influential in what we know about them. That’s neither a denouncement nor a commendation. Merely an observation.
Alone at Night is winking at its audience in casting Pamela Anderson and Paris Hilton as bit parts in a film which features videoed sexual exploits. Here in this home invasion horror, webcamming – the now brainstem of internet pornography- is a prominent element of the film. Benson plays Vicky, a young woman who embarks on an excursion to a snow-bound cabin after a bad break up. From there, she decides the location will be a base of operation for her on-off job of webcamming. However, Vicky soon realises that she may not be alone in the hills and that a masked killer may be stalking her.
Some of Alone at Night‘s strengths come from the interactions with Vicky and her clients. Webcamming is so quietly present in the digital sphere that the film unconsciously reminds us of the ease of sexual pay-per-view. Nothing new is said. Vicky’s clients are typical stock characters we instantly recognise from fact and fiction. The type of walking cliches which are expected to venture to these sites. Like psychological horror Cam (2018) or found footage drama King Kelly (2012), Alone at Night picks at the idea of identity and just how connected people are to their screen personas. It prods at the voyeuristic pleasure an audience derives from watching such characters.
Thematically it coincides with other films such as Jezebel (2019), Sweat (2020) and Pleasure (2021). Joining a modern list of sticky features in which women occupy jobs in which their bodies are objectified and “sold” online. Tricky issues of ownership and empowerment are laid on the table to be dissected. In one way, Vicky is somewhat liberated. Being able to make good money anywhere simply by having Wi-Fi and being sexy, yet her work contrasts with her outer life. A glut of freaks and geeks pervade the privacy of the cabin, reminding her of the tenuous fragility outside of the screen.
In addition, Alone at Night intersperses a faux reality TV show throughout the main story. The show, hosted by Paris Hilton, becomes a broad attempt to caricature the sub-genre. This flat take on phoney screen personas still provides a modicum of appeal. Tumbling out of a film at a time when a young generation on social media constantly mentions their fear of actual on-screen sex yet are perversely infatuated with superficially beautiful celebrities. Perhaps Alone at Night‘s most subversive moment comes at its end. Climaxing with a finale which bizarrely brings to mind the films April Fools Day (1986) and Inland Empire (2006).
READ MORE: Disney Infinity – Throwback 10
The problem with Alone at Night lies in how it executes themes without potency while actioning sequences without agency. The film’s worst crime, however, is that it is just not scary. Had Alone at Night not been lumbered with sloppy pacing and unconfident cinematography, it could have matched up with the growing list of like-minded features. Benson does well as the lead, while solid support from Luiz Guzman and Pamela Anderson is enjoyable. However, director Jimmy Giannopoulos feels unassured about the story itself. Shot choices stay safe, with umpteen shaky close-ups reigning dominant throughout the film. There is very little to inject any propulsion into the narrative or action. For instance, segmenting the story into a day-by-day structure complete with title cards does little but slow things down. Not what you need in a horror slasher.
Frustratingly, Alone at Night keeps flashing tiny amusing moments. Early on a sex worker is distracted from her john to promote herself with even more selfies. There are small moments of eroticism that drop into scenes effectively, and the film sparks to life when hinting at the conflicting intimacy that lies in the Only Fans bubble. However, the film never really cements its commentary, nor does it make your skin crawl. It’s broadly humorous to see Vicky getting herself off while wearing a Jason hockey mask, making a pointed nod to the sex/death slashers of the Reaganite era. But the film hedges its bets too much. Alone at Night has something to say but is too interested in whispering its words.
Alone at Night is out now on Digital from Signature Entertainment.