It’s not uncommon for predominant comedic personalities to flex their talent in opposing genres. We’ve seen the likes of Jordan Peele and Zoe Lister-Jones move from situational humour to helming their own horror works (the former with Get Out, Us, and Nope, the latter behind The Craft: Legacy) to varying degrees of success, furthering the notion that you truly can’t judge a book by its cover.
Despite that, I don’t think any of us were expecting Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s Joe Lo Truglio to venture behind the camera with an effort such as Outpost, a(nother) horror-adjacent project that honours the likes of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and Roman Polanski’s Repulsion as it lays focus to one woman’s descent into brutal madness. Well played, Detective Boyle.
Though perhaps a little uneven in how it approaches its central themes on domestic abuse and the subsequent PTSD of surviving such an ordeal, Lo Truglio – who also penned the script – still deserves commendation for tackling the issue with a visceral nature; whether or not you agree with the film’s culmination is another matter though.
Before the divisive climax though, we need to precede such with Outpost‘s “heroine” Kate (Beth Dover, Lo Truglio’s real-life wife, for those playing at home). Following a violent assault from her husband, Kate seeks shelter in the unlikeliest of places – a fire lookout tower in the heights of the Idaho forestry. With her husband missing, Kate believes such a locale is the last place he’d think to seek her out, and though she continually suffers oft-violent hallucinations that bring in to question the validity of her sanity, she knows the vast wilderness is the safest surrounding for her.
Under the authority of Earl (Ato Essandoh), the estranged brother of her bestie, Nickie (Ta’Rea Campbell), Kate intends to prove her value in her new position. Earl can’t stress the importance of sticking to an outpost routine any further, but Kate, with the best of intentions, has trouble finding peace in the isolation; being alone with only her thoughts proves dangerous. After a few too many sequences surrounding Kate’s questionable soundness, there’s a brief moment of seeming clarity for her when she interacts with Reggie (Dylan Baker), a retired doctor, who’s working through his own grief following the loss of his wife, and Bertha (Becky Ann Baker), a welcoming traveller who relates to Kate’s violent past, having suffered abuse herself at the hands of a spouse.
Given the evident budgetary restraints of the film itself, there are some luxuries Outpost isn’t afforded, but, to the credit of Lo Truglio, the scenic location never looks anything other than vastly impressive, and ultimately becomes a character in and of itself. It’s also a necessity for the film that its lead is a character we can barrack for, and the utter faith placed in the performance of Dover pays off in spades. There’s a strength to her that helps transcend the victimisation of her character, but in that victimisation itself lies a vulnerability and relatability that acts as a through-line for us as a receptive audience.
And it’s that vulnerability and relatability that proves most vital when it comes to the film’s climax. Without giving anything away, it’s safe to say that Kate’s sanity slips to the point of manifested savagery, and it’s with such a character choice that a conversation that’s ultimately bigger than Outpost itself breaks through. The film flirts with the topic of mental health and the flight-or-fight mentality that comes from such a trigger as abuse, and Kate’s decision to act on it in such a murderous fashion is one that’s both understandable for her character and for the film to lean into its horror inclinations. It’s one way to explore the nightmarishness of Kate’s situation, but whether it was the right way will fall onto the individual viewer.
Lo Truglio shows promise as a filmmaker with Outpost, regardless of if you think he stuck the landing on how to explore Kate’s shattered mind or not. Dover’s performance, however, is a full-tilt commitment to Lo Truglio’s intended embodiment of extreme self-preservation, and it’s with her that Outpost truly, consistently succeeds.
THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Outpost is available on all digital platforms in Australia and New Zealand from September 13th, 2023.