If I’m being honest my hopes for the horror film The Dead Outside were low. Although Scottish film is seeing a bit of a rise in quality and intelligence of late, this did sound like a it had a very low budget and it was also horror, and we all know that whatever country a horror film comes from with a low budget it’s very easy to get wrong. After all they say the easiest way into film-making is through horror.
Yet a couple of things were standing out when I read the blurb, mainly because it sounded as though they were doing the Signs route which I’d already seen elsewhere during this Edinburgh International Film Festival with Pontypool (Filmstalker review), where they take a huge world affecting event and concentrate on a small group of people caught in the heart of it all but not in the middle of the action.
The story for The Dead Outside sees a world, or at least Britain, infected by a virus which has killed most of the population and turned them into walking dead. The disease is spread through human contact and has decimated the population. A man is travelling across Scotland, presumably trying to find some safe haven or find some sense amongst this madness.
When his car runs dry of fuel he hikes to a local farmhouse and finds that there’s another survivor living there, a young girl who has been put through so much to survive.
Initially she tries to push him away and force him to leave, but soon she realises just how much she has missed human contact and with a bond quickly forming between the two she decides he can stay. Another survivor arrives and the relationships become a little more complex, particularly as this new arrival is both female and the man’s own age.
However he’s discovered a secret about the girl, something rather special and unique, and this could be more important than any of them.
Quite early on with The Dead Outside you notice just how well thought through the story is and how well they’ve transferred that to the big screen. There are so many ways they could fall fowl of clichés and standard ways of telling this story and yet they’ve clearly put effort into not doing that and bringing out something a little more unique and interesting.
Stylistically the film is really good with some nice camera work, good cinematography and editing, and holding on tightly to the idea of the characters and their relationships rather than any huge action sequences of fighting hordes of infected people.
They don’t try and make the film show the epic scale of the events, or tackle the story from a solve everything angle, instead it’s purely about the characters that they are following and how they are dealing with the events at their level, on a day to day basis, leaving the whole larger, worldwide event, to be dealt with elsewhere.
I really like that aspect, as can be seen by other films I’ve reviewed that employ the technique, because we are so much closer to the story and there’s so much more time to develop characters and their relationships. We aren’t thrown into huge action sequences and piles of gore unless the characters are, we see events and experience them as they do, from their viewpoint, instead of pulling out to a much larger view and trying to scare us with epic horror. Neither does the film try and answer every aspect of the event from its beginning to the end and any resolution, there’s no need to over explain events rather than just showing them effect the characters, and all that makes for a much more believable story.
The camera work and cinematography is one other aspect of the film that raises it above others in its bracket, and during darker scenes and outside moments they remain strong. Of course it still carries a low budget feel, but it’s filmed and made far better than you would expect.
There are some instances though were it’s not as strong. Some of the fight sequences are blocked out a little too much and the editing and filming of these could have been a bit better in order to maintain the same quality of the rest of the film, but it’s not particularly poor, it’s just not as good as the rest of the film raises the bar too, bear in mind that these scenes are short and hardly as confusing as the Hollywood action sequences we are often subjected to.
The performances are good too, for me the best was undoubtedly the girl who lives in the house played by Sandra Louise Douglas. She gives a convincing performance, and does manage to show a fair amount of anxiety hinting at something more than just straight up anger. The underlying fear that she carries with her, a fear that shows itself in her attempts to continually push people away, continues to bubble under the surface and gives her character an edge that your never really sure is dangerous or just extremely cautious. It helps to show that there’s something more hidden there, something that reveals itself as the film goes on.
Alton Milne and Sharon Osdin are also good in their roles. Milne doesn’t ever seem to overplay his character and neither does he underplay it either. To begin with I thought he might be coming from the moody looks and little dialogue school of acting, but that’s the reality of the world created in the film, and reflects the cautious and suspicious behaviour at being a survivor. As the film continues and the relationships develop his character comes forth a bit more and we start to see there’s more to him than the moody survivor.
The Dead Outside is a big surprise of a film for me. I was expecting a cheap, low budget atypical British horror, the kind that is beginning to dominate in the higher end market and defining the British section of the genre to the foreign film viewer. However it’s far from that, there’s no comedy and it’s all about the psychological horror, the emptiness, the loneliness, the distrust and the feeling of being alone, and to top it all a bit of survivor guilt.
The script is good and doesn’t rely on clichés, and the lead actress gives a strong performance, ably backed by her two co-stars.
The atmosphere and style of the film is the best surprise though, and doesn’t give away it’s lower budget status. It concentrates on the characters and the smaller locations, bringing the isolation and loneliness to the fore and not concentrating on some big, epic zombie story. Instead we get a horror-thriller concentrating on characters and relationships, something I really didn’t expect from current British horror, much less Scottish horror.
The Dead Outside is another great example of Scottish film providing something new, intelligent and with a bit more quality than many other low budget films being produced in Britain. It’s a fine example of film-making and should get far more exposure, this is undoubtedly a sign of what Scottish production should be investing in, and not the depressing drug taking and horror-comedies that we’re continually being exposed to.