Alpha **

The exposition drags, and though there are some impressive visual sequences, the story is never engaging enough to overcome the sluggish start. 

Is it worth $10? No  

Based on the trailers and marketing, viewers have every right to expect “Alpha” to eagerly embrace the standard dog movie tropes: Lost soul human befriends a feisty canine, and the two form a symbiotic bond that changes both of their lives. These things do happen, but it inexplicably takes director Albert Hughes 40 minutes to get there, which is nearly half of the 96 minute running time. This is an example of too much tedious exposition leading to a level of indifference from which the movie cannot recover.

There’s also this: It’s fully subtitled, meaning not one word of English is spoken.

Twenty thousand years ago in Europe (does it matter where the story is set when there’s no civilization in the world?), humans survive by hunting and taking care of their own. They hunt for food, not sport, and must store enough rations to last the brutally cold and snowy winter. The leader of the tribe is Tau (Johannes Haukur Johannesson), and for the first time his son Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is joining him on the hunt. It will make a man out of him, Tau insists, but Keda is not a natural warrior.

Things go wrong, and Keda is believed to be dead. This is both the best and worst part of the film. It’s the best because Keda is trapped on a small ledge in the middle of a cliff with seemingly no chance of escape. It’s perilous and palm-sweat inducing, and has us genuinely wondering how he can escape. It’s the worst because far too much time is spent with Tau lamenting the supposed death of his son, which everybody who’s seen the trailer knows isn’t real. Tau mourning is therefore a complete waste of time.

Keda eventually befriends a wolf dog and they help one another survive, with Keda knowing he needs to return home before winter comes. There are impressive visual sequences, and as seen in 3D some landscapes and action scenes inspire awe. It’s not, however, so cinematographically stunning that it sufficiently compensates for the sluggish story.

Animal lovers, the target audience for the film, are unlikely to find much joy here. There’s ample hunting and killing, for one. The visual effects for the larger animals, particularly wolves and a panther, are murky and feel a little cheap, for another. Most of all, though, there’s the report about the production that was in the news in 2016 in which four bison were slaughtered for a scene (that was cut from the film) depicting the removal of the animals’ hides (source: This negative press perhaps also explains why “Alpha” was on the shelf for a year before receiving a never-desirable August release date.

Offensive to some people’s sensibilities or not, “Alpha” as a whole simply isn’t that good. It’s structurally flawed, and not nearly as accessible to mainstream audiences as the marketing would lead you to believe. No harm in catching this on home video when the time comes, and even then only as a second or third choice.

Did you know?
The film was shot in Vancouver, Alberta, and Iceland.

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