In the first minutes of I Think We’re Alone Now, director Reed Morano’s camera stalks the streets of a quaint American town, like a New York Times Trump-voter profile come to life. But something’s off: The town, near the Hudson River, is empty. A man named Del (Peter Dinklage) breaks into a deserted house, collecting the batteries from all the electronics he can find. When he finds corpses, he wraps them in blankets and drags them by the feet into a makeshift graveyard. This macabre routine is soon interrupted by a young woman named Grace (Elle Fanning), who drives into town and worms her way into Del’s life.
Eventually, Mike Makowsky’s script reveals that Del’s shtick is in response to an epidemic in which people have just started dropping dead. “They could reanimate all of a sudden,” Del says, cryptically; the situation is hazy, and Makowsky favors intimation over explanation. It’s an approach that suits Morano’s exploratory style (she also serves as the film’s cinematographer); her camera roves over the vacant town, savoring the glowing, other-worldly light of empty spaces.
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The stoic Del, who murmurs short, clipped sentences when obliged to speak, is all business, but Dinklage can’t help but bring warmth and humor to the character. He makes his modest home in the basement of what must be the world’s loveliest waterfront library, where he used to work the night shift. Grace wonders: Doesn't he get lonely? Del responds with his longest utterance yet: “I felt lonely when it was me and 1,600 other people in this fucking town.”
From there, the story treads a well-worn path. Grace wins Del over with her easy charm; a montage unfolds of their new regimen, clearing out houses together, driving through the town, eating their dinners in the library. It’s a slideshow of life after apocalypse in which each day is the same as the last, Groundhog Day without all the people. When Grace asks why he bothers to clear out people’s fridges, Del responds, “Entropy.” You get the sense that Del’s life wasn't all that different before.
The film relies on all-too-familiar dynamics to flesh out their relationship. Despite the efforts of Dinklage and Fanning, both always pleasant enough to watch, and Morano’s keen eye — witness how she rarely puts both Del and Grace together in one frame — neither character really comes to life. Morano strives to make this world strange and unsettling, but the script proves too conventional; in typical odd-couple fashion, Grace continues to show up and talk his ear off, oblivious to, or just unconcerned with, Del’s preference for solitude. Where he’s fastidious, she’s sloppy; where he’s quiet, she’s raucous. There’s a bit of a Beauty and the Beast thing going on here, too, wherein a lovely and lively young woman softens a cold, isolated man. When a dog bites Del, Grace dutifully sews up the wound.
Later, we find out why Del’s little world is such a paradise to Grace. The film is nearing its end by the time a deliciously sinister Paul Giamatti shows up, introducing a last-minute twist that hurries along to a pat conclusion before the film wraps up. Order has its appeal, but a little chaos goes a long way.