Reed Morano is no stranger to expertly navigating dystopias. I don’t expect less from the director responsible for the excellently chilling opening episodes of the first season of The Handmaid’s Tale. Morano knows how to artfully capture the weird and the rapturous. Additionally, her credentials as a cinematographer further include some of the most visually distinctive dramas out there, such as Kill Your Darlings, The Skeleton Twins, and even her own directorial debut, Meadowland.
If there’s anything that all of these narratives have in common, it’s that Morano’s work demands us to feel something powerful while watching it. We could be shocked and indignant while witnessing the eerie, unforgivable near-future explicated in The Handmaid’s Tale. Alternatively, a movie like The Skeleton Twins implores audiences to find hope and empathy for troubled characters who feel lost and jaded. And with her first foray in the director’s chair, Meadowland is a character study in grief that is poignant without feeling too heavy-handed.
Morano’s empathetic lens has always encouraged moviegoers to remain present in her subjects’ backstories — traumatic or otherwise — and her sophomore feature effort already appears to be no different. Morano returns with I Think We’re Alone Now, the Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) and Elle Fanning (The Beguiled) headliner that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival back in January.
The sci-fi drama will hit theaters in a couple of weeks, and distributor Momentum Pictures has supplied a trailer for us to sink our teeth into. Indeed, the footage only serves to puzzle, with both protagonists only speaking in truncated sentences and asking ominous questions. Rather, a huge emphasis is placed on the film’s moody visuals to sell an overbearing atmosphere, and perhaps some emotional revelations. Watch the trailer below.
Somehow, somewhere Del (Dinklage) seems to be the last living soul in his town. Yet this dystopia doesn’t seem to frustrate him. Del looks to be thoroughly at ease with the prospect of never having to see another human again. He’s so accepting about this prospect that he’s burying all the people who used to live in the town, creating his own little utopian sanctuary. However, Del soon comes across Grace (Fanning), a young woman with a mysterious past. Before long, he realizes that she could jeopardize his haven just by intending to stay.
The I Think We’re Alone Now trailer does a fantastic job of setting up the film’s primary motivators to a point. We never know too much about Del or Grace, except that they make an odd pairing at the end of the world. Yet, humor persists! Grace establishes that Del is a strange man, and he openly agrees with her now that other townsfolk who used to think so are dead. Already, Dinklage’s dry wit cuts against Fanning’s earnestness sharply, even if the trailer isn’t very funny otherwise. They’re simply a duo you’d easily root for in such a desolate landscape because their connection seems real.
Beyond the trailer’s obvious character work lies a film that is far more visually evocative, too. As mentioned, the I Think We’re Alone Now spot is very careful with its dialogue choices, and we’re only given bits and pieces of proper conversations between Del and Grace to parse through. Morano’s cinematography clearly brings some kind of characteristic climate to the movie. The film’s muted color palette contrasts with each impeccably composed shot (particularly those extraordinarily balanced medium shots of Dinklage and Fanning) to develop a setting that’s uncanny but also lived-in and arresting. The shades permeating the images are probably a manifestation of Del’s unspeakable secrecy — whatever makes him hide away in a shell of a town that’s left and what makes him reject a possible friend in Grace.
Morano used a similar technique to unpack the trauma and grief perforating Meadowland. In fact, even Meadowland‘s first trailer, which you can view below, is decidedly loose in the sense of linear storytelling in favor for something more emotionally driven.
The film follows a young couple (played by Olivia Wilde and Luke Wilson) who are learning to cope with the disappearance of their son. As they both spiral downwards, Morano’s camera intimately keeps up with each of their individual journeys to recovery. The combination of Morano’s cinematography as well as Wilde and Wilson’s heart-shattering performances makes Meadowland pack a bigger punch than its typical dramatic trappings would have allowed at the hands of a lesser crew.
And genre convention happens to be another aspect of similarity between Morano’s debut and follow-up features. I Think We’re Alone Now doesn’t feel extremely original in the wake of the sci-fi explosion in both indie and mainstream cinema. However, Morano is keen to do right by the category anyway, choosing to focus on its potential for emotional connection. She could very well succeed.
We don’t much know if surviving in the small town that Del and Grace live in is an especially difficult task. We’re not sure what caused the apocalypse that wiped everyone else out, but I’m at least not that bothered about that. Instead, I’m more inclined to wonder about what drives these characters to continue on as the last souls on Earth if they have no one else.
And that’s how Paul Giamatti and Charlotte Gainsbourg‘s voiceover blips — coming in ominously towards the end of the teaser — make sense. “There’s no before. There’s only from now on,” says Giamatti. “It’s time for you to come back home,” murmurs Gainsbourg. These are two very emotional statements that could be contradicting one another, implying a relationship between the present and the past that cannot be unforgettable. What can these characters do now to move forward from it? If that’s precisely what Morano wants to explore in I Think We’re Alone Now, sign me up for this film right away.
I Think We’re Alone Now opens September 14th.