Imagine if The Village (M. Night Shyamalan 2004). was meshed together with a Pam Grier Blaxploitation flick from the 1970s, and you would get Alice. It’s a first feature from writer/director Krystin Ver Linden, who is bound for bigger and better things to come.
Keke Palmer plays Alice, a slave living on a Georgian plantation run by Paul Bennett (Jonny Lee Miller), who makes a daring escape. She is very confused when she eventually finds herself on a freeway, where she is picked up by African-American Frank (Common) and is told the year is 1973. The short synopsis on both the IMDb and Sundance pages reveal these details, so it doesn’t seem like the filmmakers are trying to make it some huge shocking twist like in Antebellum. It might enhance the film if you didn’t know these details, but it seems like the film is being sold on them.
The film follows a fairly routine revenge/action plot, if you’ve seen Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino, 2012) or Coffy (Jack, Hill, 1973), you know where the film is going pretty quickly. Alice and Frank go see Coffy at the movie theatre for a bit of inspiration before she embarks on her very own journey of righteous revenge. Krystin Ver Linden said Quentin Tarantino was a mentor to her in some capacity – she had some assistant role on both Inglorious Basterds (2009) and Django Unchained – and given the storyline, it’s hard to not see Tarantino’s fingerprints all over the film. It may not quite have the snappy dialogue of the Tennesseean director, but it still delivers some punches.
The film is anchored by an impressive performance from Palmer. She convincingly goes from being a submissive slave to this badass African-American avenger. It’s wilfully silly, and it’s a lot of fun.
The film’s biggest issue is its pacing. At times it feels rushed, and you wish th had about an extra 20 minutes to flesh out the story more thoroughly. The film proudly proclaims that it’s based on a true story, but if you do a little digging, it seems that’s mostly false. It’s simply using some examples of modern-day slavery during the period it’s set in to inspire what is a completely fictional story. The decision to name the protagonist Alice is an allusion to Lewis Carroll.
Alice has just premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.