There’s a touch of The Handmaid’s Tale and a little bit of The Village in Alice, a revenge thriller with an unusual premise. Written and directed by Krystin Ver Linden, the film uses imagery of 19th-century American slave plantations and 20th-century black liberation movements as the basis for a 1970s-style action film. While Ver Linden’s ideas never quite flow together, Alice is at least consistently challenging.
Keke Palmer gives an excellent performance as the title character, who toils as a “housewife” on a Georgia plantation where she and her fellow farmhands – all enslaved – are being cruelly treated by landowner Paul (Jonny Lee Miller). When Alice is pushed too far, she escapes… only to find that she is actually living in 1973.
Ver Linden spends about the first third of “Alice” – the weakest third – examining plantation life. To preserve its big twist (which is revealed in the film’s trailer), the film sticks to a fairly conventional slave narrative, giving only a few hints that something is amiss. It’s a missed opportunity to delve deeper into how and why Paul preserves the illusion of the antebellum South.
After Alice escapes, she meets a truck driver named Frank, played by Common (who is also responsible for the film’s excellent soundtrack, reminiscent of lush ’70s R&B). As Frank tries to help this woman, who has no last name, no address, and no familiarity with modern technology or manners, “Alice” settles into its most effective streak. Ver Linden’s decision to make the film in 1973 proves particularly inspirational here, as this was a time when black Americans were emerging as a cultural and political force while still facing headwinds of oppression.
For the film’s final third, however, Ver Linden switches back to something less original when a vengeful, armed Alice – inspired by Pam Grier films – heads back to the plantation. To get to this climactic action sequence, Alice’s character morphs into a completely different person incredibly quickly; and in the process much is lost about their journey to self-determination.
But even if “Alice” doesn’t work, it’s still exciting. Ver Linden develops her “what if” scenario underdeveloped, but thanks in large part to Palmer, the film is an intriguing character study about a woman who abruptly walks away from a society in which she is linked to a drawing of Anna Karenina in a book had to be content as one ambitious picture in a world where she sees Diana Ross on the cover of “Rolling Stone”. At its best, this film is a portrait of what real change looks like – and a call to move on.
Rated: R, for some violence and language
Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes
Play: Launches in general release on March 18th
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-03-17/review-alice-keke-palmer-common-revenge Alice Review: Keke Palmer is great in the slavery revenge saga