They're Outside

Film review by Thomas M. Sipos




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They're Outside (2020, dir: Sam Casserly, Airell Anthony Hayles; script: Airell Anthony Hayles; cast: Tom Wheatley, Christine Randall, Emily Booth, Nicole Miners)





Max (Tom Wheatley) is a pop psychologist with a YouTube channel. He's also a huckster and a showman. He promises quick cures for the troubled folk who come on his show, mostly to increase his channel's subscribers and likes. He tells his viewers that he will cure Sarah (Christine Randall) of her agoraphobia in only ten days! An ambitious goal, because Sarah hasn't left her house in five years.

She's afraid that if she does, Green Eyes will get her.

Green Eyes is a malevolent spirit that's said to haunt the woods. Which is a bummer, because Sarah's cottage is right in the middle of the woods. (Why doesn't she move?)

Green Eyes was once a man. Angry villagers killed him in "the late 18th century." Now he's a sort of woodland spirit. I would think he'd be a ghost, but no, he's a woodland spirit. He's said to live in "the Green House." If you enter his woods, you will get lost and never escape. You just keep walking until you reach his Green House. (And why is the film called They're Outside, if it's only just him?)

Some critics suggest that They're Outside borrows from The Wicker Man. Max does attend a pagan parade in town, and there is talk of tree spirits, but there is little explicit explanation for Green Eyes. That's not a bad thing. Green Eyes is mysterious, and thus more frightening. (Although he share traits with Slender Man, Hat Man, and especially the pagan Green Man. And his Green House in the woods does evoke Twin Peak's Black Lodge in the woods.

They're Outside is a found footage film, a risky choice because it encourages lazy filmmaking with sloppy results. Happily, that's not the case here. As in some of the better found footage films (e.g. Quarantine, The Last Exorcism), the protagonists include videographers, using professional rather than consumer cameras, so we're spared intentionally sloppy "verite" shots. Camera movements are well paced and logically motivated. The film is never too static or jittery, and always there is a rational motivation within the story for the camera's placement.



Another wise choice is that They're Outside is edited found footage. (Unedited "verite" found footage usually looks sloppy). Max's interviews with Sarah are intercut with him interviewing other people, conversations with his girlfriend Nicole (Nicole Miners), opening credits for his show, an artist's sketches of Green Eyes, the pagan parade, etc. These inserts lessen any potential monotony and quicken the pace.

In some ways, They're Outside follows The Blair Witch Project template. Max and Sarah end up lost in the woods (of course), wandering about in the same pitch blackness that worked so well for Blair Witch and The Legend of the 5ive. The ending also borrows from Blair Witch (and Quarantine). Yet despite the similarities, They're Outside has its share of surprises, creepy scenes, and frightening moments. This is a scary film.

But the film's greatest strength is its engaging characters, especially Sarah. Randall's portrayal of Sarah is the film's standout performance. Her character is multi-layered. Frightened of Green Eyes, mourning the loss of her daughter, worried about being mocked for her agoraphobia, attracted to Max, jealous of Nicole. Randall effectively conveys all this through her hesitant movements, halting speech, downcast eyes, and suspicious glances. We believe the character and sympathize with her plight.



Max is the main protagonist, suffering his own deep pain, suppressed beneath his shallow exterior. But I found Wheatley less convincing. I won't spoil the surprises, but to be fair, Max travels a longer character arc than does Sarah. He is the more challenging character for an actor.

Writer Airell Anthony Hayles is to be commended for creating an intriguing story with substantive characters. These strengths are shared by The Last Exorcism, to which They're Outside bears similarities. Like the Rev. Cotton Marcus, Max is a showman who disbelieves the supernatural, he brings a camera crew to record his attempt to disabuse a woman of her belief in the supernatural, and he is finally overwhelmed by the supernatural.

They're Outside is a small film -- most of it occurs in Sarah's cottage and nearby woods -- but it's creepy, scary, and highly entertaining. Co-directed by Sam Casserly and Airell Anthony Hayles.


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