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[Review] How to Be Alone (Popcorn Frights): Horrors of the Mind Haunt a Woman in Her Empty Home

Fears and anxieties about isolation and loneliness haunt twentysomething Lucy (Maika Monroe of It Follows and Villains, in another fine performance) during a long night in writer/director Kate Trefry’s psychological horror short How to Be Alone. What scares us most is often what we concoct in our minds, and Trefry combines that idea with absolutely stunning production design to create an eerie slice of cinema with touches of dark humor.

Lucy is left to her own devices for 12 hours when significant other Jack (Joe Keery, Stranger Things) heads to work for an overnight hospital shift. The short shifts to her inner monologue once she is left alone, and viewers fully share her dark journey in which she sets goals of eating cereal, painting her nails, and organizing her studio, but finds herself transfixed by a cabinet that fills her with dread and fear. 

Trefry, who is also a staff writer and story editor for Stranger Things, delves deep into the recesses and crevices of a troubled mind, examining the terrifying fantasies that can overcome people when left alone. Though she presents some unsettling imagery and creates a tense atmosphere, she also adds flourishes of humor. 

The production design is marvelous, with vivid colors bringing the horrors of Lucy’s fears to stark life. David Pergolini’s crisp editing and the synths-and-percussion–driven score by Michael Dean Parsons and John Kaefer blend together perfectly, building from slow and ominous to rapid and pulse-pounding. Monroe dominates the screen time and gives a masterly performance with both her voiceover performance and facial expressions.

How to Be Alone is a superb calling card for Trefry as a director. With a debut this strong, I can’t wait to see what she has in store for future cinematic projects.

How to Be Alone screened at Popcorn Frights, which ran in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, from August 8–16. With that festival screening now finished, readers can watch the short at the link below.

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry fell in love with horror films as a preschooler when he first saw the Gill-Man swim across the TV screen in "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" and Mothra battle Godzilla in "Godzilla Vs. The Thing.” His education in fright fare continued with TV series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits," along with legendary northern California horror host Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features." His love for silver age and golden age comic books, including horror titles from Gold Key, Dell, and Marvel started around age 5. He is a contributing writer for "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" print magazine and the websites Gruesome Magazine, Diabolique Magazine, Ghastly Grinning, The Scariest Things, Horror Fuel, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Decades of Horror: The Classic Era" and "Uphill Both Ways" podcasts. Joseph has also written for “Scream” magazine, "Filmfax" magazine, “SQ Horror” magazine, and the websites That's Not Current an HorrorNews.net. He occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right. A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.
Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry fell in love with horror films as a preschooler when he first saw the Gill-Man swim across the TV screen in "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" and Mothra battle Godzilla in "Godzilla Vs. The Thing.” His education in fright fare continued with TV series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits," along with legendary northern California horror host Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features." His love for silver age and golden age comic books, including horror titles from Gold Key, Dell, and Marvel started around age 5. He is a contributing writer for "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" print magazine and the websites Gruesome Magazine, Diabolique Magazine, Ghastly Grinning, The Scariest Things, Horror Fuel, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Decades of Horror: The Classic Era" and "Uphill Both Ways" podcasts. Joseph has also written for “Scream” magazine, "Filmfax" magazine, “SQ Horror” magazine, and the websites That's Not Current an HorrorNews.net. He occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right. A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.