Actor Kodi Smit-McPhee has been in the film business for some time now. Originally born in Adelaide, South Australia in 1996, Kodi began acting when he was only ten. He mostly appeared in smaller roles in numerous Australian films and TV shows up until he played Guy Pearce’s son in the post-apocalyptic film The Road. It was that role that allowed filmmakers to see his true acting potential and make him a sought-after child performer. From that point on he went on to land parts in such films as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Slow West, and X-Men: Apocalypse. Director Albert Hughes has now cast Kodi in the starring role of his latest film entitled Alpha.
Taking place 20,000 years ago somewhere in Europe, Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a teenage boy struggling to make his father Tau (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson) proud. He travels with a group of prehistoric hunters, led by his Tau, to find and hunt down bison in order to bring back provisions for their village. During their hunt, one of the bison knocks Keda off of an enormous cliff where he lands unconsciously on small ledge adorning the side of the cliff. Waiting for several days and assuming that Keda is dead, Tau reluctantly decides to leave him behind. After Keda awakens, he notices that his group is gone and he must struggle to make it back to them before winter arrives.
Above all else, Alpha is a visual powerhouse. From its stunning portrayal of prehistoric life through the use of muted colors and vast, open vistas, to its excellent framing of nature’s abundance of both wonder and sheer terror, this film sets the mood in all the right ways. In addition, certain scenes feature slow-motion shots that properly highlight key moments and accentuate them with vigor and a great deal of dramatic emotion. Those specific elements help to make Alpha stand significantly above the typical Hollywood film.
While lots of films take the shortcut of making everyone speak English despite the time period or location that it’s set in, Alpha luckily goes the realistic path and has everyone speaking a language akin to that time and place. I’m not aware of the specifics of that particular language but for me, it completely felt accurate. So with that being said, the entire film is subtitled. I personally have no issue with that fact but because it’s being marketed as a family film, taking younger children may be a slight concern.
So far, I’ve enjoyed each and every film that I’ve seen Kodi Smit-McPhee appear in. Fortunately Alpha is no exception. The majority of the film is comprised simply of him and a wolf that he befriends. Due to his charisma and outstanding performance, I completely felt engaged by each and every choice that his character made. From sheer panic and dread that appears on his face, to a calm yet sturdy masculinity that he radiates from time to time; everything felt completely sensible and genuine.
Even though praise is in abundance for the film, there are two outlying issues that I must address. One is the CGI quality for certain animals. For the most part, they appeared very passable, but there are many instances where they looked completely and utterly fake. Those moments completely took me out of the film and somewhat tarnished my overall experience. In addition to that annoyance, the story is, unfortunately, pretty by-the-books. There were slight deviations from what I was expecting but for the most part, I could have easily predicted what would happen next. Despite those criticisms, I still feel that Alpha is a very dazzling and pleasing ride from beginning to end.
Synopsis: An epic adventure set in the last Ice Age, Alpha tells a fascinating, visually stunning story that shines a light on the origins of man’s best friend.
Director: Albert Hughes
Writers: Daniele Sebastian Wiedenhaupt, Albert Hughes
Stars: Kodi- Smit-McPhee, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, Natassia Malthe, Leonor Varela
Runtime: 1 Hour, 36 Minutes