Few things are a bigger bummer in the film world than a festival title that wastes a good premise. When a movie doesn’t know what to do with a concept that initially drew you in, it almost always leads to massive disappointment. At the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, Alice is that flick. It’s almost impossible not to read the log-line and be curious about what comes next. Having seen the final product, I’m sorry to report that this is one effort that really can’t build on a good start. It ends up leaving you with a fairly bad taste in your mouth.
While Alice does contain a similarity to the genre offering Antebellum from a year or so ago, it’s after something different. That’s part of where the potential resides here. Not being a horror or a thriller, but a character study and a drama. It could have resulted in something special, which would have rocked Sundance. Instead, it’s destined to be discarded and forgotten about.
Alice (Keke Palmer) is a slave, working on a southern plantation. Presided over by the cruel Paul Bennet (Johnny Lee Miller), the days are filled with toiling and trying to survive, while bonding moments between slaves make up the nights. When things get even harder, Alice stages a daring escape. Wounding and then evading Paul, she gets off of the property. Looking for help, she emerges through the woods and finds…a highway. Little does she know, it’s actually the year 1973.
Helped out on the side of the road by a good samaritan in Frank (Common), Alice is confused and terrified. Taken to a hospital, assuming she’s hit her head, he’s concerned when it seems like she’s really out of a different time. Frank is a disillusioned former political activist, so when he protects her from the hospital attempting to institutionalize her, he begins introducing Alice to the 70s. As she grows to slowly understand the times, she also begins to plot her revenge.
Keke Palmer tries her best with a tough role. She’s fine, but the script doesn’t give her enough to do building up the character. It feels surprisingly surface level, considering what kind of emotions could be on display. Palmer isn’t the issue, but she doesn’t elevate the material, either. Common is fine but the script barely tries to give him a reason to keep sticking around. Supporting players include Gaius Charles, Johnny Lee Miller, Alicia Witt, and more.
Filmmaker Krystin Ver Linden has a hell of a premise here, but doesn’t really know what to do with it. The antebellum south elements are too flatly staged to be really immersive, while the modern elements are rushed through. Alice should have been at its best watching the title character adjust and take in information. Instead, it’s almost montaged, skipping over the good details. Involving Pam Grier cinema is a nice touch, but then the climax goes too hard towards genre, further getting away from where it should have been headed.
Alice could have been great. I truly believe that. The bones are here for something spectacular. Instead, it’s flawed and one of the most disappointing flicks at the Sundance Film Festival this year. A big fumble of a potential cinematic touchdown, it will ultimately leave you wanting a lot more, if/when you get to check it out.