Aida Vucic | 29/09/2018
Alpha is both a coming of age tale and the tale of a friendship between a boy and man’s prehistoric best friend.
Set 20,000 years in the past, Alpha follows the story of Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who’s proved himself as qualified to join his tribe in their annual hunting trek. He’s also the son of the tribal chief, Tau (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhanneson), and the pressure to make his father proud is immense. Unfortunately, Keda is overwhelmed at many of the obstacles and is reluctant to the expend his spear to inflict harm on their prey. It’s clear that the other tribe members are doubtful of Keda’s abilities. When at last they reach the bisons, the tribe are fierce, launching themselves directly into the herd. However, Keda’s inexperience sees him launched into the air and nearly trampled to death by a bison. His body lays lifeless on the edge of a cliff top and his father is forced to mourn the loss of his only son.
Amazingly, Keda has survived the fall, sustaining a leg injury that impedes him from journeying too far without rest. Keda is all alone, forced to fend for himself. Aware of the dangers around him, he’s eager to return to his tribe and be reunited with his family. His fears come to fruition as he’s faced with a pack of wolves, only to survive by the skin of his teeth, injuring one of the wolves in the process. Keda nurses the wolf back to health, forming a bond with the canine he affectionately refers to as Alpha. The pair quickly become inseparable as they journey together through the harsh climate, encountering a number of obstacles on their way.
It's not that unique a story, and from the onset it’s clear where the story is headed. Keda is never really in any danger although he faces a panther, a pack of hyenas and even a lion. Interestingly, while the dialogue is limited, it’s spoken in the primitive language of the time (complete with subtitles). The motivation behind this is unclear, as this along with some of the more gruesome scenes mean that a film that would have otherwise appeal to the younger audiences is automatically less palatable to the very audience it was intended for. The dialogue is largely limited to Keda and his father, but it is thick with powerful messages of being worthy and the importance of the community, which seem less effective when in subtitles, especially given the backdrop of the film.
Director Albert Hughes is able to impart his own personal stamp on the story to create a visually stimulating film. Interjected sporadically throughout the film are images of amazing skies, including the northern lights as well as leaps of time. These moments, though visually appealing, can be jarring at times as the story itself is halted by these clips. Had these moments been more thoughtfully intertwined with the story, the film would have achieved the heights it was so ambitiously striving for.
A conventional tale of man’s best friend, told through a colourful lens that has yet been used by its predecessors.