Alpha is a spectacular prehistoric eye-candy survival yarn, is enthralling in a square and slightly stolid way. It’s the tale of a young hunter stranded in the wilderness, who proves his manhood and becomes best friends with a wolf, and it’s like a Disney adventure fueled by a higher octane of visual dazzle, with a gnarly texture wrought from elements like blood, excrement, and maggots (the latter of which, at one point, become dinner).

The director, Albert Hughes, made his name along with his brother Allen co-directing such landmark films as “Menace II Society” (1993) and the supremely underrated Jack the Ripper thriller “From Hell” (2001), and on his own he proves to be a seductive if highly traditional craftsman who knows how to sculpt a drama of the primal human spirit out of sweeping images: a herd of mastodons, a billowing volcano, a racing warthog, sun and wind and ice and plunging cliffs.

Alpha,” set on the plains and mountains of Europe 20,000 years ago, during the last Ice Age, is no prettified travelogue.

 

That hunter is Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee), the most inexperienced member of the tribe. He’s the son of the chief, Tau (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhanneson), who with his pulled-back mane has the look and demeanor of a sternly friendly samurai.

Speaking in the film’s primitive subtitled language, Tau says things like “Life is for the strong. It is earned, not given.” He’s eager to school Keda in the laws that dominate a dog-eat-dog, man-kill-and-eat-buffalo-or-get-slaughtered-by-buffalo world. But Keda is no eager student in the harsh ways of survival.

 

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