Imagine the Will Forte sitcom The Last Man on Earth, but as an indie drama. That’s the elevator pitch for director Reed Morano’s intriguing, contemplative I Think We’re Alone Now, and it takes its post-apocalyptic premise and puts a character-driven spin on it. Peter Dinklage and Elle Fanning anchor this tale of trying to find some semblance of peace in a world rife with chaos, and while the film stretches this premise to its limits at points, the winning performances from Dinklage and Fanning mixed with Morano’s confident handle behind the camera make for a most intriguing entry into this particular genre.
Scripted by Mike Makowsky, I Think We’re Alone Now opens on Dinklage’s character Del, living alone in a small empty town some time after an unspecified event killed the entire human population in one fell swoop—literally in an instant, as some bodies are seen in an arm chair holding a remote or driving a car. Del lives in the town’s spacious library, and he’s carved out a routine of sorts. He goes house-by-house, clearing out and burying the bodies in a mass grave he’s created, and cleaning out the homes and refrigerators. Once done, he marks the road in front of the house with a giant white X. His nights are spent cataloguing the homes he’s cleaned, returning and re-organizing library books, and drinking wine and eating fish he caught that day.
Del’s world is thrown for a loop when he encounters Grace (Elle Fanning), a living, breathing human being and a young one at that. In contrast to Del’s order, Grace is impulsive and excitable, but her motives remain obscure. Reluctantly, Del allows Grace to stay and help him clear out the houses, and the two navigate this empty world alone.
This is very much a two-hander and Dinklage and Fanning do a tremendous job of holding the screen. Dinklage is reserved, apprehensive, and irritable—he tells Grace he feels less lonely now than he did when the town was full of 1600 people, and he’s incredibly apprehensive about letting her stay. It’s clear he was a loner his whole life and ignored, and now he doesn’t have to bother with daily dismissals from passers-by. Fanning, meanwhile, plays Grace with a mix of moxie and curiosity, throwing a wrench into Del’s best laid plans by head-banging to rock music or rescuing a dog and bringing it into the library.
The contrast between the two characters is the dramatic throughline here, and while it mostly works, it does become a tad monotonous as the film drones on. Small bits of levity land pretty terrifically here and there, but the film could’ve used a bit more humor and a bit less lingering shots of a character staring out the window in contemplation.
The story takes something of a left turn at the beginning of its third act, and it doesn’t entirely work. It feels like it either should have come much earlier in the film or not at all, and while it’s certainly engaging, it colors the movie in a bit of a different light.
Regardless, Morano directs the hell out of this thing. She started her career as a cinematographer on films like Frozen River and The Skeleton Twins and HBO’s short-lived Vinyl, but she made the jump to director with the 2015 feature Meadowland and broke out in a huge way helming the first episodes of last year’s groundbreaking Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale. I Think We’re Alone Now serves as a solid follow-up film that further showcases Morano’s penchant for character focus and naturalistic beauty (she works as her own cinematographer on the film as well), and it’s no surprise her career is on the rise with an action movie starring Blake Lively currently in production.
At heart, while I Think We’re Alone Now is definitely a post-apocalyptic tale, it’s really about trying to maintain order in a world filled with chaos. What humans do to keep themselves sane and moving forward when it feels as if the world is coming to an end (in this case literally), and that sometimes it’s easier to do this thing called life with a companion. The film does a swell job of navigating this theme for the most part, and the dimensional performances from Dinklage and Fanning and Morano’s assured direction make this a story well worth experiencing, and a refreshingly character-centric addition to a well-worn genre.