Jina (Gong Seung-yeon), the reclusive figure at the center of Aloners, is lonely but never alone. Or perhaps it’s the other way around. She isolates herself at every point of her day — when she eats, when she works, when she smokes — turning to screens for companionship. She is always on her phone, scrolling even while talking to customers at the call center where she works. At night, she falls asleep with the TV on.
Yet it’s clear in the director Hong Sung-eun’s quietly tragic tale of alienation, Jina is really just numb. Her mother has recently died, and she is estranged from her father. But at the call center, an eager new hire (Jung Da-eun) begins to push up against Jina’s walled-off existence.
Hong’s greatest strength is restraint. At every moment in which she could turn the film into an easier, feel-good story about a woman being taught how to wake up to life, she pulls back. Life is not so simple, and healing is hard. As much as Aloners is about grief, it’s also a portrait of the ennui of modern life, how easily people can shut themselves off and fall into the void — and how mundane that withering away looks. Yet you can spot, in the superb, subtle performances from Gong and Jung, the pain and desperation under the surface. The only way out is if Jina might see the same in someone else and reach out.