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REVIEW: ‘Alpha’ is a beautiful film … if you can stay awake

August 17th, 2018 / By: Michael Foust / comments

REVIEW: ‘Alpha’ is a beautiful film … if you can stay awake

Keda is a timid teenage boy living in a society where such qualities can get you killed. It is Europe, 18,000 B.C. – a time when you either hunt or die. Keda has a big heart, but his survival skills leave a lot to be desired.

He can’t start a fire. He can’t toss a spear. And when his father – the tribal leader – asks him to cut the throat of an injured bison, Keda refuses.

Still, his father believes his son can become a great warrior in a world ruled by buffalo, wolves and hyenas.

“Find your strength,” he tells him.

Perhaps Keda will discover his forte during the annual hunt for the “great beast,” which involves chasing hundreds of bison to a cliff and killing enough of them to survive the winter. Every male in the tribe, even the teenagers, are required to participate.

The hunt, though, ends in disaster. Keda’s clothing gets caught on the horn of a bison, which then tosses him off the cliff. Keda lands on a ledge; the tribe – assuming he’s dead -- abandons him.

Can Keda learn to survive the wild on his own?

The live-action movie Alpha (PG-13) opens this weekend, starring Kodi Smit-McPhee (X-Men: Apocalypse, The Road) in the lead role of Keda, who befriends an injured wolf (named Alpha) and battles the elements as he tries to make it back to his family.

It’s the type of animal-laden film that children – like mine – will want to watch, especially after viewing the trailer or spotting the movie poster. Indeed, the huge animals and beautiful landscapes are a highlight.

But this isn’t a Disney-type action film. For starters, it has subtitles, from beginning to end. It’s also slow-paced … very slow-paced. Finally, it shows quite a few animals being killed – something that might trouble sensitive children.

In summary, it’s a somewhat family-friendly film if you can stomach seeing animals killed. It will excite some children and bore others.

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

(Scale key: none, minimal, moderate, extreme)

Violence/Disturbing

Minimal/moderate. With plenty of hunting and killing. Tribesmen chase buffalo off a cliff and kill others with a spear. An animal kills a child in the middle of the night. (We don’t see it.) Wolves attack a person. A rabbit is killed. Someone nearly drowns. A frozen dead person is discovered. Worms, bugs and raw meat are eaten. Parents might want to steer younger children away from this one.    

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity

None.

Coarse Language

None.

Other Positive Elements

They may be primitive people, but Keda and his family show a strong love for one another. Keda also puts his life on the line for Alpha the wolf.

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

The tribal people practice ancestral worship and discuss how the “spirits” lead them. They believe the stars at night are lights from their ancestors. We also hear discussion of people dying and going to the “other world.”

Life Lessons

At its core, Alpha is a movie about the will to survive and the many ways Keda learned to avoid death. But digging deeper, we see Keda teaching us about patience, determination, forgiveness and mercy. We also learn about familial love. Speaking of that …  

Worldview

Have you ever wondered why so many movies spotlight the family? Even films not considered family-friendly – like Furious 7 and the Fate of the Furious – make the family a major theme. It’s as if Hollywood screenwriters and studio bosses were engrained by God to want a family. Of course, they are. We all are. Family was God’s first institution. No wonder it’s a recurring theme at the box office.

“I miss my parents so much,” Keda tells Alpha. And so Keda sets out to find his parents, even if it means he might freeze to death during the coming winter snow. For their part, Keda’s parents are struggling with the thought that their son likely is dead.

Sure, the tribesmen practice a false religion. But that doesn’t mean that God’s design – from the family to the stars to the animals -- isn’t seen in Alpha.        

What Works

The landscapes. The cinematography. Alpha is a beautiful film.

What Doesn’t

The pace. Let’s put it this way: If you wanted to make a slow-paced movie about a prehistoric boy getting lost and finding his way back home, then this is about as good as it gets. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.

Discussion Questions

1. How far would you go to be reunited with your family?

2. Name five positive character traits of Keda. Does he have a character trait you need to work on? What are his weaknesses?    

3. Keda and his people practice a false religion. What makes it a false religion? 

4. Is there anything Keda did that you’d struggle to accomplish in the wild? Could you eat worms? Bugs? 

Entertainment rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG-13 for some intense peril.