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Matthew Mahler's "To Be Alone" Creates a Dark Drama

"TO BE ALONE" (2017)
Genre: Drama
Length - 12:46
Company: N/A

A man (Timothy J. Cox) exists day to day in a big, empty house, trapped in his thoughts and the finality of his religious upbringing.  Why doesn't he leave?

The answer to that question can be found upstairs . . .

WHAT MATTHEW BUILT

Writer/director/editor Matthew Mahler returns with "To Be Alone", a film that is very much cut of the same cloth as his previous short, "What Jack Built" (review right here).  It features a solitary character, in this case both films starring the ever reliable Timothy J. Cox; both shorts are largely silent, with the exception of the occasional burst of noise, music or dialogue; indeed, both films are introspective with a dark underbelly.  "To Be Alone" takes the darkness another step.

I can't say much here without spoiling the film, but suffice it to say I found "To Be Alone" a big step forward for Mahler.  Whereas the direction in "What Jack Built" felt random, hurried and unsatisfying, here we have shots that capture their respective moments.  Take for instance the long shot trailing Cox during the walk to and up the stairs: the sound and subtle music cues accompany the intentional and inevitable reveal.  That right there is how it's done, folks -- we've been waiting for an answer to what keeps our protagonist in the dark place he's been, and Mahler brings his "A" game.

ON THE FLIP SIDE

Some of the character moments of the film were surprisingly wooden, especially coming from Cox.  Some of those were directorial choices, but some of it too comes from a lack of any character depth from which to draw for the actor.  One of the biggest offenders was the shot of Cox attacking the wood with repetitive hammer strikes.  It's delivered with cartoonish flair, which perhaps was for laughs?  I didn't get it, and it didn't move me.

I didn't buy the purpose of the construction at the end, either.  Obviously, he's going to be noticed -- even in the state he finds himself, he's got to know that.

At the end of the day, "To Be Alone" aims to be a melancholic character piece, and it largely succeeds.  There's just a couple spots where it falls short, but it's still an improvement over Mahler's "What Jack Built".

OVERALL SCORES:

Writing: 2 / 5.  Basic concept is good, and Mahler's script sets up some nice visual setpieces -- in particular the aforementioned walk up the stairs.  There's still some real gaps here though, mainly in the paper thin character we find as our lead, and also the unbelievable task to which he dedicates himself.
Directing: 3.5 / 5.  The camera movement was good and Mahler made some really great decisions visually.
Editing: 3 / 5.  Many shots felt way too long, but overall the structure of the film rolls smoothly.
Acting: 3 / 5.  Cox is a good actor and he is credible here for the most part, with the exception of a handful of wooden shots.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  Very, very sparse, but it works.  I felt like "Stand By Me" performed live by The Staple Sisters was a bit out of place.  I understand the vibe Mahler was going for, but the song didn't fit, particularly coming out of an otherwise silent movie.

Overall Score: 2.9 / 5.

Check out writer/director/editor Matthew Mahler on IMDb right now!





Thanks for reading! I'm a screenwriter and script consultant. Most recently, I've worked with LMC Productions and Mad Antz Films in Australia. I helped mold Goodybag Productions' award winning screenplay "The Teacher" and Michael Maguire's feature length script "The Wolfpack", which is still in development.

Check out my blog and let's get in touch!