WHAT would you do if you got stranded in the desert with little food, water, and barely enough esteem to begin with? Stage a play? Probably not.

But for 10 tourists who are stranded in the Namibian desert in the film The King is Alive, performing Shakespeare’s King Lear seems like a perfect way to pass the time while they await rescue. As days roll by with rehearsals, the tension between the characters escalates. Inner demons surface and the characters fall deeper into depravity, indulging in lust, fear, hate, violence, and vanity. Echoing the musings of scholarly actor Henry: “Is man no more than this?” who was among the stranded people.

Director Kristian Levring explores the varying levels of human debasement in this psychological horror film through the use of traditional techniques — handheld cameras, on location shooting, and natural light and sound.

Because of the handheld camera, the film shots are characterized by jerky movements and sudden shifts. Transitions are done in a non-linear way as evident in the sudden insertion of barren desert scenes.

Levring skillfully uses natural light to aid the film’s atmosphere. Mirroring the harshness of desert heat, daytimes are extremely lighted while nights are ominously shrouded in darkness.

Sound is utilized as well to great effect. The sweeping shots of the desert landscape lack any sound, which contrasts sharply with the noisy background engine sound inside the bus.

Through the combination of the cinematic elements of light, sound, and directing, the film is given a raw quality, which emphasizes the feeling of doom that pervades in the story.

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'Ladies first'

Complementing the artistic directing methods of Levring is the film’s wonderful ensemble of actors—David Calder, Bruce Davison, Janet McTeer, David Bradley, Romane Bohringer, Peter Kubheka, Brion James, Chris Walker, Lia Williams, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. The cast gives excellent performances by portraying. As the situation turns worst, the characters descend into madness. Honest, unsentimental, and direct, The King is Alive is a disturbing film that demonstrates just how precarious human civility and sanity is.

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