Written and Directed by Krystin Ver Linden.
Starring Keke Palmer, Common, Jonny Lee Miller, Sinqua Walls, Alicia Witt, Gaius Charles, Jim McKeny, Madelon Curtis, Kenneth Farmer, Natasha Yvette Williams, Jaxon Goldenberg, Craig Stark, David Andrew Nash, Sharonne Lanier, and Eddie King.
A slave in the antebellum South escapes her secluded plantation only to discover a shocking reality that lies beyond the tree line.
Alice is not the first film to explore the connective tissue of racism in America’s past and present through a plot device of someone escaping a plantation (where everyone is led to believe it’s still pre-Civil War times) only to arrive like a fish out of water in the future. It certainly won’t be the last. It’s also a concept that rarely if ever, yields rewarding results despite its natural intrigue.
Debut writer and director Krystin Ver Linden has crafted a film that is no exception to this track record. Frustratingly, her movie has no sense of what it wants to be or should be. And while I don’t necessarily want to give orders to how this story should be told, I’m pretty confident saying it needs to be taken a tad less seriously and willing to embrace its Blaxploitation inspirations.
An unnecessary amount of time is spent on this plantation without doing anything with the setting that speaks to the fact that it is really the 1970s. Rather than briefly introducing viewers to Alice (Keke Palmer, who deserves some kind of award for even trying to portray the character in the many various ways she is told) and her husband Joseph (Gaius Charles), as they serve the sadistic Pete (Jonny Lee Miller), and quickly sending the story on its way into its more exciting aspects, the entire first act primarily consists of the usual slavery trauma but without purpose.
Of course, this would be forgivable if the story is meaningfully establishing characters, but it’s mostly just one scene of abuse to the next, with the occasional clue that something about the places off (such as finding a lighter). Moreover, the film itself doesn’t even feel like it should be diving this deep into its depiction of plantation life, considering its inevitable intentions.
With that said, I was truly unprepared for how badly the narrative would ruin Alice’s integration into society following a daring escape from the plantation. Again, it’s played for fish out of water humor, but the surrounding story is dramatic, complete with looks at the Black Panther movement. Alice befriends a former party member turned truck driver played by Common, who initially drops her off at the hospital but changes his mind upon realizing that they’re going to toss her into the sanitarium. None of these elements are cohesive, resulting in the movie being cringe-inducing awkward whenever it’s trying to be funny and flat-out ridiculous when it’s trying to be serious.
One solid scene (primarily due to Keke Palmer’s performance) sees Alice reading some Black history books, discovering the Emancipation Proclamation, and realizing her freedom. She also learns about cultural icons such as Pam Grier and Diana Ross, making them a part of her personality. Unfortunately, the scene comes around an hour in, meaning that Alice finally starts to get mildly interesting when it’s almost finished.
There’s also no action-packed showdown between Alice and the plantation owners as she comes back to rescue the ones left behind. A confrontation does happen, but it falls flat just like everything else here. It’s bewildering what Krystin Ver Linden considers essential to this narrative, squandering the entire concept on an hour of nothing and misfiring on what should be the juicy part.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com