*. How many times have we been down these empty streets? I lost count years ago. But this time it’s different.
*. In the first place, there aren’t any zombies. Del (Peter Dinklage), sole survivor of the End of the World As We Know It, doesn’t even carry a gun. What’s the point? The corpses he’s burying aren’t going anywhere, and aside from the smell don’t pose any threat.
*. The second big difference is that Del is OK with being the last man standing. But then why wouldn’t he be? He’s a librarian! So he does some fishing, makes a meal, cleans up some houses, and then spends the rest of his days reading and watching old movies. Silent movies, even! That’s going full librarian. Think of the Burgess Meredith character in the Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough at Last” (1959), only without the ironic ending. That’s my kind of apocalypse. How does he even heat that massive library building in the winter? With solar panels? Please. But apparently that’s not a worry.
*. He’s not even looking for company. When a woman does crash her car into his solitude he isn’t as excited as Morgan when he first sees Ruth in The Last Man on Earth or Neville seeing Lisa in The Omega Man. In fact, Del wants nothing to do with her and is only drawn into getting involved because she needs medical attention.
*. Del’s anti-social nature makes the surprise reveal later in the movie all the more credible. Grace (Elle Fanning) is not the only other survivor. In fact there’s a whole city of people somewhere over the horizon, leading perfectly normal lives. It’s just that Del wouldn’t know anything about them because he wasn’t looking for them and they weren’t looking for him. That’s both remarkable and entirely plausible.
*. After the apocalypse, or some kind of collapse brought about by a pandemic, wouldn’t Los Angeles (I’m guessing from the desert and then the palm trees) be the very last place you’d expect civilization to reconstitute? It’s about as artificial, which is to say as energy-intensive, a city as one can imagine.
*. Then again, I guess it’s the artificiality of Southern California that is the point. All those shiny happy people living like so many blissed-out vegetables in the sun, they’re just us. What’s being played on, I think, is the idea of the apocalypse as a revelation of how we really live now, or at least see ourselves as living. So while the zombie apocalypse reflects a war of all against all, revealing just how much we’d like to kill our neighbours (with the Purge movies making the same point), I Think We’re Alone Now reveals society as made up of so many tranquilized living dead. Man-made zombies, when you think of it.
*. Either way, we’re all the walking dead, with the same picture of society being drawn. That is, that there is no such thing as society. We’re all in this alone. Even the budding romance between Del and Grace does nothing to change this.
*. The theme of cleaning up is introduced in various contexts. Del’s “job” is to clean up the town. “There’s Windex under the sink,” so that should help clean up Paul Giamatti. And of course there’s the cleaning up of memories of grief and loss through fanciful neurosurgery. A lot of reviewers objected to the third act, but I’m not sure where else this movie was going and I thought it was consistent with the rest of what we’d seen.
*. Because I liked the new spin it puts on what has become a popular storyline, and because both Dinklage and Fanning are very good, I came away impressed by I Think We’re Alone Now. The only let down was Reed Morano’s direction and photography, which I didn’t think went well with what was going on. What’s with her strange obsession for shooting in silhouette, washing out Del’s and Grace’s faces? It just adds to a sense of detachment throughout that I thought pulled away from characters I wanted her to get closer to.
*. Then again, that very distance might be part of the point. I Think We’re Alone Now isn’t just post-apocalyptic but post-feeling. It’s a totally secular and passionless end of the world, with no zombies and no rapture and no gangs of rapists and looters roving the highways. There’s just silence and a clean slate for nothing much to happen on.