Alibi V.13 No.11 • March 11-17, 2004 

Film Review

What Alice Found

Teen queen hitchhikes to heck in intriguing indie

What Alice Found

Directed by A. Dean Bell

Cast: Emily Grace, Judith Ivey, Bill Raymond

“I know what you’re thinking:   Did she use five bullets or six  ?”
“I know what you’re thinking: Did she use five bullets or six ?”

With its title liberally lifted from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass; and What Alice Found There, the sophomore outing by writer/director A. Dean Bell announces itself as a warped fairy tale about lost little girls and alternate universes. The girl in question is Alice (newcomer Emily Grace), a troubled teen from nowhere, Massachusetts, working a cruddy job, hanging out with a bunch of post-high school slackers and being indifferently raised by a poor single mother.

One day, our young heroine snaps, steals a bunch of money from her employer and hits the road in her battered car. Her resulting journey is couched in fewer surreal metaphors than Carroll's classic, but it results in a similarly twisted tale of growth achieved and obstacles overcome.

Shortly after setting out from her stifling hometown, Alice's beater car breaks down. She is rescued at a rest stop by a pair of grinning Good Samaritans. Sandra (Judith Ivey) and Bill (Bill Raymond) are a kindly retired couple who offer to give Alice a lift. Alice's plan consists of little more than maybe drifting down to Florida where a friend of hers is about to start college. There, perhaps she'll study to be a marine biologist. After all, she thinks dolphins are cute. With that vague goal in mind, Alice climbs blindly into Sandra and Bill's RV and heads out on the road.

It isn't long before Alice's journey takes a dark twist. A certain percentage of Alice's appeal comes from its subtle sense of discovery. I hate to give away its biggest surprise—but there's really no way to talk about the film without spilling the beans. If you're the adventurous type, stop reading now and go check out What Alice Found. It's a tense little white trash drama about ... stuff. If you need a bit more than that, read on.

Although they seem like average middle-Americans, Alice's rescuers are members of a sleazy cross-country society. Sandra, it turns out, is a well-traveled truck stop prostitute. Bill is her husband/pimp. Together, the two traverse the country, fuelling their lifestyle with rest area rendezvous and pit stop peccadilloes.

Though Alice wants little to do with this queer couple, and they seem quite content to leave her to her own devices, she soon starts to realize that the Florida border isn't getting any closer. Days later, out of money and relying entirely on the kindness of strangers, Alice gets the sales pitch. Have Sandra and Bill staked out Alice to add to their stable from the start? Did they have a hand in her current predicament? Is Alice just the latest in a steady convoy of fresh meat?

Shot on grainy digital video, the film has a raw, unpolished look to it. At times, you could be looking at someone's home movies. One the one hand, it lends a rough, gritty feel to the proceedings. On the other hand, it does look like a shot-on-a-shoestring film fest entry. At least the filmmakers did not skimp on talent. Ivey (Compromising Positions, Brighton Beach Memoirs, Mystery Alaska) is disarmingly amoral as the overly nice, overcooked sexpot. Long-time character actor Raymond matches her tone perfectly, creating a low rumble of menace throughout the film. There's never any outright fear of this friendly, seemingly helpful couple, but there are more than a few alarm bells raised. Gawky-cute Emily Grace builds a believably tough exterior over her character's insecure center and keeps the film moving forward with her sincere portrayal.

What could have been a shrill, exploitative thriller, is instead a complex moral fairy tale. (Toss Sharon Stone and Julia Stiles into the cast and you can imagine the horrors Hollywood could have wreaked on this one.) Like her literary precursor before her, this Alice navigates her way through a weird, strangely touching coming-of-age story. Just leave the little kids at home. ... Unless, of course, you want to treat them to a fairy tale about prostitution.