There's no question that Alice is a rousing and thrilling moviegoing experience, but there's a lot of question as to whether it should be.

Sundance Film Review: Alice


Sundance Film Review: Alice
Director: Krystin Ver Linden

Stampede Ventures and Steel Springs Pictures
Premieres: 01.23 at 6:25 p.m. MST

Not all movies easily fit into the categories of a good film or a bad film—some are even both at the same time. Alice, the provocative debut feature from writer-director Krystin Ver Linden, is a prime example of this truth.

Keke Palmer stars as Alice, an enslaved woman living on a plantation in rural Georgia in the household of a brutal man named Paul (Jonny Lee Miller, Elementary). After being repeatedly brutalized, Alice tries to fight back and ends up fleeing for her life out into the neighboring woods. When she comes out on the other side, Alice finds herself in the middle of something she’s never seen before: a highway filled with cars. She is rescued by a truck driver named Frank (Common, who also serves as a producer) and learns that the year is 1973. In a state of shock, but having been taught to read by Paul so that she could read aloud to him for his leisure, Alice consumes every book and magazine article she can find. Her readings bring her up to speed on the modern world, the lies that she has been taught and the Black liberation movement. Emboldened by this and a trip to a movie theater to see Pam Grier in Coffy, Alice makes the choice to fight for her freedom and that of her brothers and sisters, both literal and figurative.

Alice is billed as being “inspired by true events” of Black Americans who stayed enslaved through one means or another well into the 20th century, a shocking and sadly true fact. Linden intends to maximize the entertainment value and tell a marketable story of vicariously cathartic revenge. Alice embraces the ’70s blaxploitation genre with a heavy Tarantino influence, and the third act is immensely satisfying. 

That said, there’s an uneasiness that hangs over the film that begs the question of whether this was the best way to handle the subject matter. The film’s brutal section that takes place on the plantation before our heroine’s escape is nearly 40 minutes long—the film only clocks in at one hour and 40 minutes. The time spent there establishes Alice’s reality and the evils of Paul quite effectively, but it makes the change of genres into a cool homage to the badass urban thriller feel all the more jarring. 

Palmer (Hustlers, Scream Queens) gives an electrifying performance that deserves recognition, and the entire cast is top notch, as well. By the end, there’s no question that Alice is a rousing and thrilling moviegoing experience, but there’s a lot of question as to whether or not it should be. The complete change in tone is handled more smoothly than you might expect as the film gradually builds to a crescendo, and Ver Linden shows a lot of skill as a director. But Alice is an uneven mix that left me feeling a bit embarrassed and guilty over how much I enjoyed it.

Alice is an interesting film that has a lot going for it, and I’d recommend it with the caveat that it is aimed directly at the Tarantino crowd and people who want to deal with righteous anger through fantasy. It’s hard to ignore the feeling that the subject matter deserved more serious and thoughtful treatment. –Patrick Gibbs