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European films

Alpha film review: Kodi Smit-McPhee teams up with wolf in prehistoric adventure tale

Smit-McPhee stars as the young son of a clan chieftain who gets separated from his tribe and forms an uneasy alliance with a wolf in director Albert Hughes’ first solo movie away from his brother Allen

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 September, 2018, 10:01am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 September, 2018, 10:01am

2.5/5 stars

Set 20,000 years ago, Alpha is a survival story in which man and beast bond, or at least find common ground, as they face the harshness of Mother Nature.

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Kodi Smit-McPhee plays Keda, the young son of a tribal chief (Icelandic actor Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson) who has yet to prove his masculinity out in the wild. When he accompanies his father and other hunter-gatherers from the tribe on a bison hunt, it gives him the chance to prove his worth.

The plan is to drive the creatures over a cliff, where they can be easily killed on the ground below. But after being caught up in the stampede, Keda falls over the precipice and lands on a small ledge. Unconscious and presumed dead, he is too far down to be rescued, and his grief-stricken elders reluctantly leave him behind. When he wakes, he begins on an extraordinary adventure to return back to his people.

Dangers lurk everywhere, not least a pack of ravenous wolves. Keda fends them off, even injuring one, who is soon abandoned by his fellow creatures. As Keda tends the wolf’s injuries, binding its mouth to prevent him being bitten, he forms an uneasy alliance with the beast. It won’t come as a big surprise to learn that Keda will require the help of the wolf he names “Alpha” on what becomes a treacherous journey home.

A prehistoric Lassie movie? There are times when Alpha feels just that.

Smit-McPhee is plausible enough in a lead role that recalls his earlier robust work in the post-apocalyptic drama The Road. Intriguingly, the film is directed by Albert Hughes, marking his first solo project without his brother Allen. The pair previously collaborated on more adult-skewed movies like From Hell and The Book of Eli.

Albert Hughes crafts a respectable family film here. However, in spite of some epic visuals, Alpha feels overly familiar as it lumbers towards a plodding and predictable final act.

Alpha opens on September 25

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