Film Review: Alpha (USA, 2018) is an ancient story of Man’s best friend

Set in Europe “20,000 years ago”, a tribe of hunter-gatherers is preparing to hunt before winter. Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee), is learning the ropes from his father, the tribe’s chief Tau (Johannes Haukur Johannesson). Quiet and sensitive, the young Keda is having issues in coming to terms with killing animals, with father gently guiding him unto the ways of the world and the tribe.

When Keda has an accident on expedition, he’s left for dead and struggling to survive in harsh conditions. Looking for home, he makes an unlikely friend in a stray wolf, and suddenly we have the story of man’s (first) best friend.

There’s a lot to get past in this film, most notably it’s (lack of) approach to any historical accuracy. The high-fashion fur hooded parkas, jewelery and boots look like Kanye West inspirations, while characters speak in a fictional language with quite advanced concepts for a pre-historic people. And this is before you even consider that the film’s title is from civilization that was still another 10,000 years away.

Structurally it’s simple faire, but it is shot beautifully and with some quite decent CGI. While it might be a nice watch for dog-lovers, it is a wasted opportunity to get deeper to the heart of how man came to domesticate dogs, and why we love them so much. The film’s marketing might be deceiving, but this is essentially a sophisticated (and dark) kid’s film. Taking this into account, it’s a well-shot adventure, and a fun school holiday flick, but through any other lens this is a slow and sluggish watch.

TWO STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Alpha is in cinemas now.

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