‘Alice in Terrorland’ Review: A Psychological Thriller that Fails to Take Full Advantage of Its Wonderland Inspiration

Despite some very good ideas and solid visuals, Alice in Terrorland underwhelms as a twisted version of the classic story of Alice in Wonderland.

Alice in Terrorland stars Lizzy Willis as a young woman named after the character from Lewis Carroll’s writing.

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Though turning classic stories for kids into horror movies is not new, it is definitely a fad at the moment. The latest release in the current wave of children’s-story-inspired horror is Alice in Terrorland. Written and directed by Richard John Taylor, it is a low-budget psychological thriller that ties its story to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in multiple ways. Unfortunately, even with some good ideas, the movie ends up being far less wondrous than it could have been.

What is Alice in Terrorland About?

Alice sits at a table with two candles in Alice in Terrorland.
Alice (Lizzy Willis) is quick to try to connect with her grandmother Beth, but her Gran seems a little off.

Alice in Terrorland is about, as you might expect, a young woman named Alice. Her mother and father are killed in a house fire, but Alice survives. Some time later, Alice is sent to live with her grandmother Beth. Beth lives in sprawling yet dilapidated house in Wonderland, a piece of land deep in the woods that Beth claims used to be the residence of Lewis Carroll. After arriving at Wonderland, Alice quickly falls ill. Practically bedridden, Alice drifts in and out of sleep as Beth watches over her and reads Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to her.

The main idea of Alice in Terrorland involves Alice’s dreams in which she encounters twisted, all-too-human versions of the characters from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking Glass. Each dream brings Alice into contact with new characters, and each new character sheds light on a mystery involving Wonderland. The mystery is easy to pick up on, making Alice in Terrorland more of a dreamy psychological thriller rather than a straightforward horror movie.

Is Alice in Terrorland Good?

The White Rabbit in Alice in Terrorland.
The White Rabbit is probably the most instantly obvious reference to the characters from the books that Alice encounters. (pictured: Steve Wraith)

Alice in Terrorland fails to connect on a few different levels. For one thing, the wonder of Wonderland is non-existent. Part of that comes with the deliberate choice to turn the fantastical elements of the source material into dark and dingy versions more fit for the themes and aesthetics of a low-budget horror movie. That’s fine. But most of the scenes in the movie are shot and edited in such a way that it makes it difficult for the audience to get a sense of space and dimension.

Almost every sequence in the film involves Alice talking to just one other person, with each of them standing or sitting still. Establishing shots are rare, and the framing is so close to the actors that we can’t really tell where they are. They might as well be anywhere. This could all be a way to disorient the viewers, making them feel lost like Alice. But the Wonderland in the movie (as in, the location where the movie takes place) ends up being a large part of the story, so it’s an issue that we never really get to see it well. It’s also simply off-putting for viewers.

Beth as the Red Queen in Alice in Terrorland.
Some of the character designs are curious, especially since there are two different characters in the movie who look more like different incarnations of The Joker rather than who they are supposed to represent from Lewis Carroll’s books. (pictured: Rula Lenska)

That said, there are some really nice shots in the movie (most of which are close-ups). There are some subtle and not-so subtle effects done made to dream sequences seem somewhat unreal, and the camerawork is overall very pleasant to look at. Alice in Terrorland looks good even if it doesn’t always show us what we need to see.

As for the story, it becomes clear quite early what is happening, even if the specific reasons for it aren’t as clear. This is okay, because the story isn’t about the audience being in the dark, it’s about watching Alice figure things out before it’s too late. Lizzy Willis does a nice job as Alice, but the character just sort of drifts through the movie. It’s like she’s confused and scared, until suddenly she isn’t. Much more of an emphasis is placed on introduing new characters and waiting for the moment when the audience points at the screen because they suddenly recognize a character from Lewis Carroll’s books. That diminishes Alice’s journey and makes it feel too abrupt. It’s like she’s taking a backseat in her own story most of the time.

Jon-Paul Gates is sufficiently intimidating as the Mad Hatter in Alice in Terrorland.
Jon-Paul Gates is sufficiently intimidating as the Mad Hatter.

Unfortunately, the main conceit of Alice in Terrorland, the dream sequences, don’t add the whimsy, drama, or terror they should. At worst they become tedious, and at best they simply don’t add much to a plot that is summarized completely (and easily) in the final scenes. Overall it’s a little too disjointed to be truly effective, and it never takes full advantage of its source material. The connections to Lewis Carroll’s novels are more like gimmicks rather than necessary inclusions.

Alice in Terrorland Recommendation

Alice is sick and sweating in Alice in Terrorland.
There are good ideas in Alice in Terrorland, but they are never fully realized. (pictured: Lizzy Willis)

Alice in Terrorland is for people extremely curious about adaptations of Alice in Wonderland, and for those who are adamant about keeping up with the current wave of public-domain-inspired horror. Psychological thrillers can be very subjective, so some fans of the genre might find Alice in Terrorland worthwhile, but for the most part this is a below average thriller.

Alice in Terrorland was released in the United States on February 13th, 2024, and it is currently available to rent on VOD sites including Amazon. It is also available on DVD.

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Meet The Author

Chris has a degree in film studies at Temple University’s campus in Tokyo, Japan. He is a renowned expert on horror cinema.