Release Date: 05/19/23 [Cinemas + VOD]
Studio: Gravitas Ventures
"A nightmare on a mountain, about a woman fighting demons where the demons are winning."
OUR MOVIE REVIEW:
“I found the longer you stay on the mountain, the deeper the mountain stays in you.”
Outpost is the feature directorial debut from Jo Lo Truglio (Charles Boyle from Brooklyn 99). The film follows Kate (Beth Dover), a recovering trauma and abuse survivor, as she volunteers as an Idaho national forest fire lookout in a lonesome tower. During her stay in the outpost, Kate must contend with her new responsibilities and PTSD, which lead to surprising consequences.
To say that Outpost is a horror movie would be a gross understatement. This film plays more like a psychological thriller with ostensible supernatural undertones. Truglio's film is really about processing trauma, which in and of itself can be arduous and horrifying. But Outpost plays more towards a Gone Girl vibe than something like Hereditary.
This distinction of the genre is essential because Outpost was grossly mismarketed as something that could one day land in a Halloween marathon. Instead, this film belongs more to the Lifetime network in its nature. This misstep isn't a failure of the filmmakers but instead of its publicity.
There are nuances in this film that trend towards the horror camp, particularly with a few make-up choices that are surprisingly decent to look at. But as a whole, there are only a few scares to be had. Instead, the film doesn't keep a consistent tone and does a severe hard pivot near the last 15 minutes. But I'll come back to that later.
The film looks well enough for having an obviously very economical budget. There are great sweeping shots of the mountain ranges and forest. The woods are already creepy as it is. Truglio winds up the anxiety and loneliness of watchtower living with wide shots and uncomfortable music. There are a few moments where I feel that if not for lack of equipment, shooting time, or money, Truglio would have accomplished more incredible sequences. Truglio presents an excellent eye for setting a scene and mood with what is available, even if that mood dances from scene to scene. I applaud the efforts of Truglio and his team's efforts for showing a wide-open world outside of the outpost and a tight, suffocating atmosphere from within it.
Outpost is very short, with the end credits beginning at around the 82-minute mark. Despite its short runtime, the slow-burn pace Truglio employs works for the most part. The last 10 minutes rev up to almost warp speed. I wasn't aware I needed bear traps on my plot device bingo card. There are a lot of characters in the film despite much of the story being with Kate alone in a lookout tower. Most of these characters are people from the nearby town, an eccentric neighbor (played wonderfully by Dylan Baker), and some occasional hikers.
Kate's friend Nickie (Ta'Rea Campbell) is an advocate for Kate's healing and is the one who recommends Kate to her brother Earl, a local park ranger. Earl (Ato Essandoh) hires Kate and provides her with instruction and support on all lookout procedures, including check-in times, directing coordinates for possible fires, and ways to pass the time.
As the weeks and months pass, Kate learns a lot about the wilderness and taking care of it. The neighbor (Baker) teaches her how to chop wood, and a frequent hiker teaches Kate how to shoot a rifle despite Kate's distaste for firearms. Her ex had guns, you see? But between all of Kate's developmental beats are these moments of reflective trauma. As mentioned, Kate is a trauma survivor; her last partner abused her severely. As the film progresses, more parts of Kate's turbulent past surface, primarily as hallucinations. These present small moments of conflict for Kate, causing her to lose her phone and the cabin keys and even causing her to almost lose her volunteer position when she scouts a fire on a distant mountain ridge.
These small bits are sprinkled on top of a more deeply seeded layer of trauma. Outpost gradually moves from dotting out minute flashes of stress to using broad strokes to map out Kate's pain. But that gradual nature drops out so quickly towards the end, and this is where the movie lost me completely.
The frustration I felt with the last third of this film is unwavering. Many subplots hinted at, and other nuggets of story nested in Outpost, ultimately go nowhere. Either that or other subtle indications of specific story points and characters are assumed to be the truth. Here's the rub; I know what the movie was trying to do with this shift; it just didn't work.
Outpost is a maze of painful healing through trauma for our hero, Kate. While that does work sometimes, ultimately, this movie attempts to insert suppositions of how things could be without earnest conviction. I believe this is a disservice to actual abuse survivors. While people recovering from trauma will undoubtedly have a variety of methods to cope with their callbacks to prior mistreatment, Outpost, in my opinion, makes a mockery of that healing process.
What begins as a personal and painful story of a woman healing ends up hinging sharply into some knock-off woman-revenge B-movie at the end. Women deserve better. Trauma victims deserve better. Audiences deserve better. There is an audience out there, possibly already in the wilderness, that will sit through Outpost and walk away feeling satisfied or even validated. But I would be presumptuous to think actual trauma survivors would appreciate Outpost's climax. For a pretty exciting horror film premise, Outpost takes a big swing but sadly misses where it counts.