For all the horror genre’s attempts to scare us with demonic possession and serial killers, real terror rarely lies in external threat but in the machinations of the mind. By that logic, Still Alice is one of the most haunting films released in years, as it charts one intelligent, vivacious woman’s descent into intellectual oblivion after she is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
News of Julianne Moore’s Oscar-winning central performance may have reached our shores prematurely, but that doesn’t make her turn as Dr Alice Howland any less surprising. Unlike starry Best Actress roles gone by, Moore retains her beauty, dignity and poise throughout in a subdued, yet devastating, interpretation of what it feels like to live with a degenerative brain disease.
Moore has said the filmmakers deliberately chose to depict early onset Alzheimer’s in a 50-something woman to drive home that dementia is a disease and not simply something that happens with age. Removing the condition from its usual context and applying it to a linguistics professor, whose life’s work is dedicated to understanding communication, makes it an especially cruel assault on Alice’s identity and sense of self.
Her particular brand of Alzheimer’s is genetic, too, meaning her children have a 50/50 chance of inheriting it. Unfortunately, this angle is barely explored; Alec Baldwin and Kristen Stewart do their best with parts that are as stingy as the film’s $5m budget, and it settles for being a basic, one-issue film rather than the multi-faceted family melodrama it could have been.
While Moore’s Oscar is thoroughly deserved, low production values and an unambitious narrative mean Still Alice is little more than a worthy TV drama that happens to have snared an excellent lead actress.
CRITICS CHOICE: THEATRE
The Nether: ★★★★★
Dystopic vision of a lawless cyber-future is high-concept and viscerally affecting. Duke of York’s
Shakespeare In Love: ★★★★☆
This stage version of the Tom Stoppard-written film is a classic in the making. Noël Coward Theatre