Nina is living with her partner in a house out in the remote countryside. But this is not a portrait of domestic bliss — Nina is trying to recover from some kind of illness or breakdown, and her partner has taken on the responsibility of helping her get better.
But Nina is chafing under his increasingly stringent care, and as the pressure mounts, she retreats to an alternate reality in her mind, where another Nina questions what is happening to her. When care starts to cross over into something more controlling, the two Ninas begin to plan their escape.
Written by Huna Amweero and directed by Erin Good, this short psychological thriller portrays the inner experience of a woman navigating the edges of sanity and freedom, all while exploring questions about mental illness and the line between care, control and abuse.
The most immediately striking aspect of the film is the rich visuals, which alternate between a dark, brooding lyricism that takes viewers deep into Nina’s innermost psyche and a gritty, more naturalistic mode that characterizes Nina’s “real” world with her partner in their home. The dark, moody colors, careworn surfaces and dynamic movements and editing are the hallmarks of a sharp visual acumen that seamlessly combines Nina’s inner and outer worlds. For Nina and the viewer, they are the same.
The visuals give shape and form to a carefully constructed, precisely calibrated script, which intertwines the escalation of Nina’s care with her inner turmoil, especially as her privacy is increasingly eroded and she is force-fed her meals. Actor Shari Sebbens plays the arc between wary, almost passive confusion to an increasing conviction and belief in her autonomy with understatement and honesty, while actor Nathaniel Dean’s complex performance as her partner achieves a balance between love, frustration and an ambiguous dominance over her. Both actors make their respective viewpoints sympathetic and understandable, giving the narrative emotional and intellectual nuance.
The bridge between these two characters is Nina’s double, played by actor Charlotte Best, who could be interpreted as almost an imaginary friend or an extension of Nina’s psychology. This second Nina questions what is happening, encouraging Nina to believe in her own story and feelings — a transformation that brings both tragedy and freedom in this cloistered but richly realized tale.
“Alone” has a unique resonance today, especially as we discuss mental health more openly and are more aware of how past treatments for mental illnesses have stripped people of autonomy and dignity. Yet the narrative setup also forces us to ask questions of just how dangerous Nina is to herself and others — and how much of her potential threat is brought about by treatment that bordered on dangerous to begin with. In the end, though, Nina wants what many of us desire: to define and live for ourselves on our terms, and not how others see us. No one likes a cage, and anyone finding themselves in one will fight it as much as they can, even to the point of brokenness.