Barbara Crampton Talks About Her Intense, Surprising Thriller—Without Men
Alone With You uses its lack of male characters to scramble genre expectations.
Alone With You is an evocative, clever suspense horror thriller, which keeps you guessing as to whether the terror is psychological, all-too-humanly sadistic, or supernatural. Given the history of horror film, though, one of its bigger reveals isn’t in the plot, but in the casting. Women have all the major roles; there are no male speaking parts, and there’s only one man who even appears onscreen. The film itself is a bleak story about isolation and possibilities shutting down. But it’s also an indication of how the industry and the genre are, slowly, opening up.
The film, directed by Emily Bennett and Justin Brooks, starts with Charlie (Bennett) waiting for her girlfriend Simone (Emma Myles) to come home to celebrate their anniversary. She has short phone calls with her judgmental religious mother (the legendary Barbara Crampton) and a friend, Thea (Dora Madison), both of whom warn her that Simone is up to no good. Then her apartment door gets stuck, there’s something wrong with her clock…and who’s that figure you see behind her when her back is turned? What are those Lynchian sobs coming through the grate? Things for Charlie rapidly deteriorate from there.
Barbara Crampton, who has worked in horror films since the 80s when she was a lead in classics like Reanimator and From Beyond, told me by phone that at the beginning of her career, “it was mostly male directors. And most of the movies were protagonist-driven movies by men.”
Things did change slowly over time, but it’s only in the last five years or so, she said, that you’ve started to see many more female directors. Crampton pointed to Brea Grant (12 Hour Shift), Chelsea Stardust (Satanic Panic) and Axelle Carolyn (The Manor.) But she could have mentioned many more, including Anna Biler (The Love Witch), Nia DaCosta (Candyman) and Julia Ducournau (Titane).
Crampton said one of the things that attracted her to the script was that she “was trying to guess where it was going—as a horror fan, we kind of do that. And the truth of where she was trapped and the reality of what was happening to her was a surprise to me. And I didn’t expect that to be the case.”
Alone With You’s reveal isn’t completely unprecedented. But it doesn’t give away many hints until the last quarter of the 80-minute run time. Part of why it’s so successful at hiding its payoff is because, with no men about, the usual gendered horror assumptions about who is heroic and who perpetrates violence don’t apply.
Final Girl slasher scripts—in which the female protagonist goes from victim to armed empowered death-wielder—generally depend on a fearsome male (or at least male-appearing) slasher antagonist. In monstrous feminine films like Carrie, the female monsters usually visit their violence on (at least some) men. You figure out which horror movie you’re in in part by how the genders line up.
In Alone With You, though, there’s just one gender to be alone with. It’s clear from early on that Charlie’s relationship with Simone is charged with jealousy, anger, and a fair amount of desperation. It’s also clear that the relationship is linked to Charlie’s increasingly harrowing isolation. But who is responsible for the harrowing, or if anyone is, is difficult to pin down when comfortable gendered expectations don’t give you many clues.
Alone With You isn’t only about gender. In fact, it’s not really about gender at all. The plot is about obsession and mental illness. The most obvious metaphorical reference is pandemic quarantine; the film was shot during lockdown. Crampton’s performance was filmed entirely over zoom, and it’s a rare scene where more than one person is in a room.
The movie’s cramped interiors and interrupted sightlines creates a visceral sense of dead-ends and support structures fraying. Friends, loved ones, emergency services, neighbors, stop coming to the door, and then stop picking up calls. Charlie is trapped in her apartment which means she’s trapped in her skull. That’s an experience that a lot of people who lived (and are living) through the pandemic, of whatever gender, can identify with.
The fac that Alone With You doesn’t highlight its all-female cast in the marketing or the film itself seems significant too, though. All male movies like John Carpenter’s The Thing, for example, aren’t generally thought of first of all as all-male movies, because men in horror (and just in film) is the default. Alone With You suggests some ways that horror can be less stereotyped, and more surprising, when it treats women as the default instead. “Change doesn’t happen all at once,” Crampton told me. But, she added, “we're in a good position to feel like things are a little bit more equal.”
First published February 2022.
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