Tuesday, October 20, 2009
In the dark heart of war-ravaged Eastern Europe, where the constant sound of distant gunfire is a grim reminder of the savage violence that resides within men, an engineer (Julian Wadham, from the Exorcist prequels) on retainer for some undisclosed company, hires a hastily-assembled squad of mercenaries led by Punisher Mark 3 himself, Ray Stevenson, to protect him as he surveys some recently-acquired “real estate” for “minerals.”
That’s the set-up for Steve Barker’s feature debut, Outpost, and it starts off promisingly enough, though ultimately, doesn’t quite get the job done.
Now, I’ve long had a fascination with the possibilities in the collision of war and the occult, and the relatively slow burn of Outpost’s script—by Rae Brunton, from a story by Kieran Parker, Barker, and Brunton—works in the film’s favour, allowing the audience fleeting glimpses of some of the characters, as soldiers and as men. (Though Wadham’s engineer, Hunt, stubbornly remains more plot function than actual person.)
In addition, credit must also be given to casting director Kate Plantin, who has assembled a cast who decidedly do not cut the photogenic Hollywood soldier of fortune figure. There’s nary a ripped, gym-toned body nor young, pretty boy stud to be seen here. Just grizzled veterans who’ve seen far too much, who aren’t exactly the type young ladies would take home to meet their mothers.
For all the checks in its plus column though, Outpost doesn’t really live up to its promise, and when the nature of the unstoppable enemy is revealed, the proceedings gradually revert to a vaguely mechanical (and vaguely familiar) rhythm; you just know how things will turn out in this little corner of Hell.
The film’s rather unimaginative coda also plays as a tired little echo of many a horror film before it.
Still, much of Outpost is a sight better than most of the recent “horror during war” movies. Disappointing entries that come to mind include Alex Turner’s Red Sands (set in modern-day Afghanistan), Rob Green’s The Bunker (WWII), and Kong Soo-chang’s R-Point (the Vietnam war).
Actually, the only one I’ve seen recently that I truly love is Daniel Myrick’s The Objective (also using the Middle Eastern conflict as backdrop).
If only Outpost hadn’t buckled, it could have enjoyed some rarefied company.
The fact that a sequel (Outpost II: Black Sun) has been announced leaves me rather ambivalent. If it’s going to be more of the same, I think I’ll pass.
If Barker (who returns as director) intends to step up his game though, then Black Sun could be worth a look.
We’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we?
Parting shot: A review of The Objective can be found in the Archive.
(Outpost UK quad courtesy of impawards.com.)