Friday 8 April 2011

The Dead Outside (2008)

THE DEAD OUTSIDE is a low budget British (Scottish to be precise) horror movie in the zombie sub-genre.  It stars a cast of unknowns (and possibly non-professional actors) and confines the action to a small, isolated farmhouse and the surrounding fields.  It was directed and co-written by Kerry Anne Mullaney, which makes her a member of possibly the rarest species of them all: the female British horror director.  It's also unusual in the sense that it is less interested in the nature and extent of the pandemic than it is in the effect of that pandemic on three young people.

I'm inclined to give low-budget independent films a bit more leeway than mainstream films because the conditions under which they are made can often be extremely trying and not in fact terribly conducive to quality film-making.  But I'm afraid to say that THE DEAD OUTSIDE doesn't really work, at least not as a horror / zombie movie.  I think the root problem is that there is not enough incident of not enough interest to sustain even the relatively brief running time.  The idea of exploring the altered dynamic of a world in which it is difficult to tell friend from foe or even whether the humans or the zombies are more dangerous, but there is a balance to strike between that and depicting the conditions which have produced that situation.

Unfortunately the film comes down on the wrong side of that balance meaning that there is plenty of anguished chat between the three main characters but virtually no horror and very few zombies.  The net result is that you get a rather dreary semi-menage a trois between a truculent young girl, an earnest young man and an insincere young nurse.  I'm all for character-driven movies but they have first to be interesting characters, which these are not.  The standard of acting doesn't help, frankly; I'd rate it somewhere along the Hollyoaks / AmDram border.  Having said that, it does improve as the film goes on and I'd be interested to know if the film was shot in sequence because that might explain it.

Sarah Louise Douglas and Alton Milne
One other major problem is that the film is unnecessarily vague on a number of plot issues which makes the whole thing seem incoherent.  Again, I'm all for movies that don't lay everything on a plate for the audience but there's a big and important difference between ambiguity and confusion.  There's one major incident which at the time made me think "Hang on, where did that come from?".  Afterwards I managed to concoct an explanation for myself but I don't think the audience should be doing that.  It's fine for the audience to create their own meaning out of a film but they shouldn't have to be explaining away continuity errors.

I had to really search for a still of an 'infected' but here's one
My worry is that these aren't issues that would be solved with a larger budget (apart from perhaps the acting).  The essentially dull and uninvolving story is a misjudgment on the part of the writers, and the confusion is a directorial issue.  To end on a positive note, however, the photography is good and it doesn't look like a low-budget film.  The regional accents help to give the film a sense of place and that place is made to feel threatening by inventive use of the farmhouse setting, which has a grimy and inhospitable  feel to it which makes it feel almost as oppressive as the bleak countryside outside.

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