What if “Ice Age” but the human kid’s a lot older and it’s not played for laughs? What if “The Revenant” but, you know, good? Delayed for over a year, “Alpha” is finally in cinemas and it’s a real treat, if not exactly what the multiplex crowd may be expecting.
Left for dead after an accident during a buffalo hunt, young Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee) must navigate across the prehistoric wilderness and find his way home. Fending off a wolf attack, Keda injures one of the pack and so begins an extraordinary friendship which would change the course of humanity forever.
There’s a dedication to realism in this stone-age fantasy that provides a credible edge of threat and tension through the survival adventure – which occasionally borders on survival horror. The entire film is – with the exception of a slightly twee, unnecessary and, one suspects, studio-mandated opening and closing narration by Morgan Freeman – performed in a language created especially for the film and subtitled throughout. The screenplay, therefore, is cunningly economical with the dialogue, relying on spectacle and an impressive central performance from Smit-McPhee to carry the story through the film, developing a credible and touching partnership with his initially reluctant wolf companion.
The ice-age world is captured spectacularly by director Albert Hughes and cinematographer Martin Gschlacht, bringing the primordial Earth to the screen with near Kubrickian reverence. Dramatic, tense and ultimately uplifting, it may border on survival horror rather than survival adventure at times and definitely earns its 12A certificate, not just through its demands on focus and attention but also in terms of bursts of violence and injury.
I’d planned to skip this one and catch it later at home but at Mertmas’ insistence, we found time to see it in the cinema and I’m glad I did. The stunning visuals demand the biggest screen you can find and he was spellbound for the entire movie, caught up in the very first story of a boy and his dog.