Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Career soldier-of-fortune DC (Ray Stevenson) and a rag-tag team of six other mercenaries have been hired to protect corporate engineer Hunt (Julian Wadham) as he ventures right into the middle of an Eastern European civil war zone. When Hunt claims merely to be conducting a mineralogical survey on property recently acquired by his employers, none of the soldiers really believes him – but even though these men have seen every unimaginable horror in their line of work, nothing quite prepares them for what they will find in and around the abandoned woodland bunker to which Hunt leads them.

Inside, there is a pile of fresh naked corpses in a containment chamber, along with one unresponsive, apparently braindead survivor (Johnny Meres), while outside, in the surrounding woods, lurks an implacable, near invisible enemy whose methods of attack are as implausible as they are ruthlessly effective. As they fight for their very lives, DC and his men realise they are engaged in a conflict that has a long, shadowy history, against a foe as unstoppable as they believe themselves to be.

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War, as they say, is hell – and if this is a cliché exemplified by almost every war film ever made, it is also occasionally literalised when the tropes of the war film merge with a more genre-bound brand of horror. Perhaps the first such crossover was Kaneto Shindo's creepy Onibaba (1964), in which a civilian mother and daughter-in-law are transformed into monsters by the asperities of prolonged civil war in feudal Japan. Thereafter there have been all manner of films in which soldiers have found their more conventional war-making activities interrupted by an enemy far from natural – films like Michael Mann's The Keep (1983), John McTiernan's Predator (1987), Rob Green's The Bunker (2001), Neil Marshall's Dog Soldiers (2002), Michael J Bassett's Deathwatch (2002), Kong Su-chang's R-Point (2004) and David Presley's forthcoming The Sand (2008).

All of which is to say that Outpost is not hugely original – and indeed, anyone who has seen Ken Wiederhorn's Shock Wave (1977) will definitely feel as though they are on familiar ground here - but that does not mean that Steve Barker's feature debut lacks all accomplishment. On the contrary, it is a slick, stylish genre piece that gallops along and grips from its no-nonsense beginning to its bleakest of endings. Rae Brunton's spare script allows the characters to emerge from the action, has room only for the most essential exposition, and messes efficiently with anyone who supposes that the order of deaths can be easily anticipated. The ensemble performers prove as briskly professional as the characters they play. The super 35mm wide screen not only captures every minute detail of the eerie exteriors and claustrophobic interiors (all in fact in Scotland), but, desaturated to the point of near monochrome, offers an omnipresent visual analogue to the thematic encroachment of the (black-and-white) past upon the present.

Most importantly, Outpost is creepy. Not jump-out-of-your-seat terrifying, but rather insidious and atmospheric, so that when one character (Paul Blair) asserts, "this place is wrong – very wrong", viewers are in no doubt that he is correct. If you took the time to give it any thought at all, the plot is silly almost on the scale of Raiders Of The Lost Ark - but it is played so fast and so straight that you will not be left with a moment to think or question, let alone catch your breath. In short, Outpost is exactly what a horror film should be – while also commenting on a whole history of human barbarity and conflict that seems doomed forever to repeat itself.

Reviewed on: 15 May 2008
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A group of soldiers find themselves facing an ancient and seemingly unstoppable enemy.
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Director: Steve Barker

Writer: Rae Brunton

Starring: Ray Stevenson, Richard Brake, Julian Wadham, Enoch Frost, Paul Blair, Michael Smiley, Brett Fancy, Julian Rivett, Johnny Meres

Year: 2008

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


Dead By Dawn 2008

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