I Spy a Corny Thriller

Attempting to say something about our voyeuristic culture, first-person flick can't see past genre clichés

The notion that the movies make voyeurs of us all may be the most venerable of cinema-studies chestnuts—but it's scarcely less true for that. In fact, cinematic voyeurism now seems a quaint forerunner to our contemporary surveillance society. Both ideas are conjoined in Alone With Her, written and directed by Eric Nicholas.

Alone With Her, which had its local premiere at last year's Tribeca Film Festival and opens theatrically next Wednesday (when it also becomes available on demand through Cablevision and Comcast), is predicated on the inexpensive, near-ubiquitous spy technology that its protagonist supposedly uses. This first feature is shot "first person" and is first and foremost a concept—at least as interesting to think about as to actually watch. On the one hand, Alone With Her aspires to the faux documentary quality of late-'60s hall-of-mirrors fictions like David Holtzman's Diary or Coming Apart, in which the protagonists are amateur filmmakers and the movie that we see is supposedly theirs. On the other, it wants to work as a genre thriller—albeit one that seems far less inclined to implicate its audience than such obvious precursors as Rear Window or Peeping Tom.

Indeed, a cautionary intro attempts to immunize Alone With Her against any charge of exploitation: "Every minute, three people become victims of stalking . . . " Our stalker, an apparently unemployed nebbish named Doug (Colin Hanks), is introduced at home preparing for an expedition. His face is hidden but a mini videocam is none too subtly identified with his penis. The camera is initially positioned over his crotch; the first images that it captures (hot young things snapping their thongs on the beach) are framed by the open zipper of Doug's camera bag. Presently, the hunter finds suitably vulnerable prey. Amy (Mexican telenovela star Ana Claudia Talancón) is tearfully playing with her dog in the park. Doug follows her and stakes out her place. (Sound of heavy breathing.)

Several days later, according to the film within the film's visible time codes, he breaks into Amy's apartment and, with minimum effort, installs a half-dozen nanny cams—covering her foyer, bathroom, shower, living room, bedroom, and bed. Having thus created his own personal Jennifer Ringley (she of late-'90s webcam fame), Doug is initially content to spy on Amy's solitary comings and goings, taping himself at the computer, head down on the desk beside the screen that shows her sleeping image. Soon, however, he demonstrates a diabolical, if not supernatural, capacity to insinuate himself into and ultimately control her life. (Amy's vibrator notwithstanding, this is the real fantasy.) Doug contrives to meet Amy at the coffee shop and amaze her with his fondness for the movies he knows that she's just seen. One amazing coincidence leads to another until the violent finale.

Hanks plays Doug as a pasty-faced John Hinckley type. Talancón, who is on-screen for most of the movie's 78 minutes, is effectively natural in her exhibitionism, a version of the victim role she played opposite Gael García Bernal in The Crime of Father Amaro. But Doug doesn't play fair and neither does the filmmaker. Not only do the various nanny cams show an uncanny ability to cut within a given scene, but around the time Amy's beloved dog goes missing, the time codes disappear altogether from Doug's footage. As the voyeur manages to enter the Amy Show, Nicholas uses this ontological shift as the basis for a "real" movie of his own, effectively liquidating the original premise.

 
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