They're Outside


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

They're Outside
"It has a distinct story arc of its own and more going on thematically than you might expect." | Photo: Courtesy of FrightFest

A d├ębut feature clearly made on a shoestring budget, They're Outside is a film that has a lot of problems but is, overall, better than anyone had a right to expect. It's a piece of folk horror put together with just a handful of actors, a single apartment, a patch of woodland and little else. Writer/director Airell Anthony Hayles and co-director Sam Casserly even manage to elicit some acting from Emily Booth, a feat as yet unmatched elsewhere, in a role which presents her with a not-so-subtle opportunity to excuse some of the disasters of her earlier career.

Booth is not the star here. That role is shared by Chrissy Randall as Sarah, a bereaved, agoraphobic woman convinced that something is waiting for her in the woods outside her house, and Tom Wheatley as Max, a psychologist and self-made celebrity convinced that he can save her and capture it all for his YouTube channel. This sets the stage for a found footage piece which, in the tradition of the epistolary novel, ultimately draws on material from several sources. Comment provided after the fact positions it as a pseudo-documentary. Though it owes a conscious debt to The Blair Witch Project, acknowledged in shot choices close to the end, it has a distinct story arc of its own and more going on thematically than you might expect.

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From the start, it will be clear to most viewers that Sarah is seriously unwell, and that whatever prior discussion may have taken place between her and Max, she wasn't aware that inviting him to visit could lead to her being forced out of her house. Indeed, the impression we get is that she's simply lonely, found him attractive and wanted the chance to get to know him. This immediately creates tension with his girlfriend Nicole (Nicole Miners), who is there to handle the technical side of things. Max, however, is determined to get what he came for and as time goes by it becomes increasingly obvious that he's unconcerned about the possible damage to his fragile host. His claim to be able to fix people is rooted more in ego than demonstrable skill. No supernatural presence is required here for things to go badly wrong.

Although the actors don't quite have the skill to pull it off, there's an interesting thread here about the nature of celebrity and the way it can distort human relationships. It complements the film's foundational myth, which concerns a figure who attracted the wrong sort of attention and was hounded to his doom only to return as a shadowy presence among the trees - the sort of story told to children to keep them from straying too far. Sarah associates this figure with the loss of her child. Could she be right? In this context, small incidents take on new layers of meaning. Can a belief like this be dangerous in itself, even if there's nothing real behind it?

Hampered by the limitations of their equipment and clearly inexperienced, Hayles and Casserly are unable to bring this story to its full potential. It may be that, like Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead, it's a project worth revisiting later in their careers, or with more support. It certainly has enough going on to put them on the map.

Reviewed on: 29 Aug 2020
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They're Outside packshot
While filming a documentary about an agoraphobic woman, a celebrity psychologist is drawn into supernatural events.
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Director: Sam Casserly, Airell Anthony Hayles

Writer: Airell Anthony Hayles

Starring: Emily Booth, Emma Burdon-Sutton, Nicholas Vince, Jon-Paul Gates

Year: 2020

Runtime: 83 minutes

Country: UK


Frightfest 2020

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