Alpha Alert

| June 17, 2014

Upon returning from active duty in the middle east, three soldiers who have all experienced severe psychological trauma find themselves trapped in an elevator in Washington D.C. during a terrorist attack.  Determined to get to her missing daughter, Captain White (Jennifer Morrison; House) has to overcome her own personal demons as well as the unstable Sergeant Oldsman (Josh Stewart) trapped beside her to figure out a way to escape.

That summary is only a part of Alpha Alert, but I can’t discuss too much more without getting into spoilers.  I want to discuss these things later in the review, but I’ll put a spoiler warning before I do.  To begin, I can talk about certain aspects of the film that I do like, and reasons why I’d recommend checking out Alpha Alert.  First, the film is very theatrical, with its small cast and its minimal sets.  There’s an intimacy to that, which works really well for me.  I also like that the film still needs to be a film despite its theatricality.  You couldn’t effectively adapt this story for the stage, as it requires the three-dimensional environment of the elevator, and the magnitude of the shaft above the elevator.

I also really like Jennifer Morrison’s performance.  Her character has a clear want and she shows the audience what she’s willing to do to get what she wants.  Her character arc also allows her to overcome her PTSD in interesting ways.  The other performances fall flat for me.  Josh Stewart’s turn as our villain is too easy and archetypal to be taken seriously, and James Frain (The Count of Monte Cristo) is mostly wasted as the soldiers’ psychiatrist.

Spoiler Alert

Ok, so the thing I find most interesting about Alpha Alert is the way it’s structured.  The thought occurred to me early in the movie that this might all be fake.  It just felt like there was a twist ending coming, and my guess was that the soldiers being trapped in an elevator was some sort of treatment for their PTSD.  This turned out to be true, but the interesting thing was that the reveal of this idea came about halfway through the film.  It was not revealed to the characters in the elevator, but the audience was suddenly in on the secret, and the use of dramatic irony allowed us to see how the other characters would grow to understand these things.  I would have suggested cluing the audience in on this fact much earlier in the film, but a lesser writer would have kept the secret until the end, and it would have failed miserably.

As much as I like certain aspects of Alpha Alert, its bigger flaws would probably prevent me from watching it again.  Most of the small cast is playing uninteresting characters that they’re too talented to bother with.  Also, the end of the film spells out a moral of respecting veterans, which felt a bit heavy-handed and ultimately unnecessary given the events of the film.

Special Features include a digital copy of the film.  Available now on DVD from Lionsgate.

About the Author:

Joe Sanders Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
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