Directed by Jay Lee
Writer/director Jay Lee so very desperately wants you to see the connection to Alice in Wonderland in his newest thriller Alyce Kills. The thematic elements are pervasive, seen primarily in the title character’s (Jade Dornfeld) quick descent into a world of sex and murder precipitated by hallucinogenic drugs. The reason? She accidentally pushes her best friend (Tamara Feldman) off the roof of an apartment building. While Alice in Wonderland as metaphor for madness isn’t really a stretch, Lee’s film never really manages to be more than just a series of loose references found through uninspired naming tactics and a hollow and tenuous connection to the theme of “going down the rabbit hole.”
Before she begins her journey, Alyce is seen as little more than a wallflower sporting an unrequited obsession with her best friend, Carroll Lewis (how clever). Her past indiscretions – light stalking, wearing the same clothes, etc – are brought up but then quickly dismissed, making one of the presumptive catalysts for the loss of her sanity nothing more than a weak plot point that fails to serve as a suitable explanation for going mad so quickly. It just…happens, with no real rhyme or reason to why she’s doing what she’s doing beyond “she accidentally injures her friend” and is, if we’re to believe the official synopsis of the film, “haunted by guilt.”
But at no point following Carroll’s accident does she display anything remotely resembling guilt, making the accident seem like little more than a cheap way to dredge up mostly unrealized themes of Alice in Wonderland. It’s decidedly lazy, never coalescing into something adequate enough to justify her madness; simply taking some drugs and going crazy while dropping “off with her head” one-liners isn’t enough to draw a satisfying connection to the classic story. All it does is ascribe to the film a cheap and insulting veil of poignancy that proves to be more insulting than intriguing.
The only thing that prevents the film from diving down a rabbit hole of utter mediocrity is the method through which Lee chose to present his story. Utilizing a loose hand-held style, a grainy aesthetic, and, to be fair, an honest attempt at surrealism, Alyce Kills truly belies its generic poster art, which seeks to relegate the film to contrived teen revenge thriller status; it’s anything but, and despite its weak story it manages to give off an impressive look. The performances are admirable, particular the one given by Eddie Rouse as Alyce’s drug dealer. He’s the only character supported with enough development to make his actions rational. He’s eloquent, a little unhinged, and perfectly capable of casting aside the “bad guy” facade to engage in pseudo-philosophical monologues that seek to justify is chosen profession. He’s a bright spot on an otherwise bleak film, as ironic as that may be.
Only in the film’s third act does the “slow burn” give way to something a bit more sardonic, with Alyce dispatching and disposing of her victims in humorous ways that abandon the tone of the first two acts. While it’s a good send off, everything that precedes it forces it to be far less relevant than it should be. She’s in the throes of madness now, but really, who cares? As funny as the final scenes may be, they don’t fit with the film as a whole, the build-up being too cheap and hollow to make them be little more than a lighthearted respite from a film that tries just too damned hard to be more than it really is.
2 out of 5