Alpha ★★ 1/2

Originally set to hit theaters nearly a year ago, Albert Hughes’ fictional account of the origins of man’s best friend saw its release date bounce around a few times before Sony finally opened it in theaters with very little fanfare. Usually, this would indicate a production that’s probably not worth watching—but in this case that couldn’t be further from the truth. While Alpha may not feature any big-name stars, you won’t soon forget the titular wolf-hound, nor his reluctant master, a boy on the cusp of manhood known only as “Keda” (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a name communicated to us through subtitles that translate the crude language spoken by early Europeans during the last Ice Age. Hughes, working solo after co-directing his first four features with his twin brother, Allen, emerges as a visual storyteller of uncommon power. Aided by cinematographer Martin Gschlacht (ace photographer of 2014’s unsettling thriller Goodnight Mommy) and an army of visual effects artists, the director (who also conceived the simple story) convincingly transformed his Canadian locations into a harsh Solutrean wasteland filled with windswept snow, volcanic eruptions and dangerous predators. Among the latter is Alpha, who’s wounded after attacking Keda with his pack. Alpha and Keda gradually begin to rely on each other after each is left for dead by their respective tribes. Seek out this visual stunner on the biggest screen you can find. You’ll be rewarded with a richly realized, late-summer sleeper of unexpected power. (At Assembly Row, Boston Common, Fenway, South Bay and in the suburbs.)

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