APRIL 9, 2012
Horror is the only genre where a low budget doesn’t necessarily mean a film that can’t compete with the big budget counterparts. Sure, there are the occasional low budget sci-fi (Primer) and action (The Raid) films that kick all sorts of ass for less than I make a year (not much, believe me) but those films are incredibly rare. Impressive next-to-zero budget horror films, on the other hand, seemingly come along once or twice a year or more, so The Dead Outside’s pitiful 4k budget meant nothing to me.
Sadly, it’s the sort of movie that a less experienced horror fan might use an example for why low budget horror should be avoided, assuming that ALL movies in this budget range will turn out like this one. It’s a shame; I would have loved to walk away impressed, even if the film wasn’t perfect, but the film suffers from both kinds of flaws. Sure, the budget probably played a part in the film’s terrible sound and lighting, but you can’t blame it for the lead female character being so hostile and obnoxious. She delivers EVERY SINGLE LINE she is given with the same annoyed near-shout, which should get on anyone’s nerves before the first act is even through. I mean, yeah, the world is going to shit and everyone that’s not dead is trying to kill you due to yet another “rage virus” (do these things ONLY strike in the UK?), but I would think that the girl could tone it down a few notches every now and then. There are really only three people in the movie, and one of them doesn’t show up until the end of the second act, so having essentially half your cast come across as wholly unsympathetic is not the wisest choice, regardless of whether the film had enough dough to make up for it with big FX and set-pieces.
Another problem that I can’t see being the budget’s fault is the attempt at stylized direction, which is to say that 75% of it seems to be shot at a tilted (“Dutch”) angle. There is no easier way to draw attention to the fact that you’re watching a movie than with one of these goofy shots, which is why most filmmakers are wise enough to avoid them for the most part, or at least confine them to ridiculous fare like Battlefield Earth (or comic book movies like Thor). When you’re dealing with a story that is going to great pains to come off as realistic, the 30-45 degree angles just seem counter-productive. I’d almost prefer hand-held/shaki-cam excess for such a thing; it might be just as annoying after a while, but at least there would be a logical justification for it.
Then there’s the needlessly confusing third act, which MIGHT be a budget issue if they didn’t have the money to film everything in the script and had to make do with what they had, or tear pages out on set and hope that they got the essential moments for an audience to piece it together. If so I guess I’m just dumb, because I was going “Hmm?” and “WHAT?” more often than not during the final 20 minutes or so. If I’m correct (spoiler), our hateful heroine was believed to be immune to the virus and the 3rd person who showed up was trying to bring her back to the city in order to create a vaccine, but there are also these baffling flashbacks (one involving a mental institution) and bits involving the male hero that I couldn’t begin to decipher. Hell, the end credits did a better job of filling in some of the gaps than the movie, as the character’s names were providing some of the context (“Oh, that was her brother”, you might say, because the credits name that random guy as “April’s brother”). If this was a budgetary issue, then it was just poor planning on their part, because most of the movie takes place in one location (with the same two or three people throughout) and thus they should have shot all of the exposition bits first.
The rest, fine, blame the dough. I had to laugh when I saw that the DP was also the producer, because you’d think that he (as producer) would have made sure that the necessary funds went to the lighting department. The entire final act of the movie is nearly impossible to make out as its almost exclusively exterior night shots in which they didn’t appear to use anything but natural light. I mean, look at this nonsense:
Maybe the DVD is just poorly compressed, but it’s clearly underlit to begin with – even the shittiest Mill Creek transfer in the world has recognizable images if the film was lit properly. Same goes for the audio; who is to blame for the badly balanced sound that drowns out dialogue far too frequently to be acceptable? Not to sound ignorant, but a thick Scottish accent can be hard to understand as it is; piss-poor audio (and a total lack of subtitles – sorry, deaf people!) certainly doesn’t help matters. With so much of the story laid out in exposition, you’d think the presentation of dialogue would be a major concern. There’s not a lot of action in the movie, but I’d rather see even less if it meant they spent that time/money on the areas that really count. They had to have known that they would be compared to 28 Days Later, so why try to compete? Focus on what sets your movie apart from the competition; otherwise you come off like a little kid on a tricycle trying to blend in with a bunch of dudes on motorcycles. Again, that’s what makes Primer work so well – rather than try to have cool time travel FX or elaborate stories about trying to prevent JFK from being shot or something, Shane Carruth focused on the two main characters’ conflict about how the machine should be used, wrapped around a fairly minor (and again, personal) tragedy.
The DVD has two extras, but they’re bizarrely lumped together in one of the laziest presentations I’ve seen in a while. They clearly just converted the film’s EPK tape onto the DVD, as the “making of” portion stops after 15 minutes, then you watch 30 seconds of black screen before a title card comes up saying “interview”, complete with the aspect ratio, runtime, etc. If you’ve worked in post you’ve seen this screen before, and you know it has no business appearing on a commercially available DVD. Anyway, the making of actually has worse audio than the movie, with clips from the movie completely drowning out the director and producer’s thoughts on the matter. The interview is a little better, because you can pick out a few tidbits more clearly. The film was shot in only a few days, they first had the idea to make it roughly a year before it premiered (at Frightfest), etc. I admire their drive, but that only counts for half the grade. Hopefully they are aware of the film’s shortcomings and can deliver on their next movie. And shoot it during the day!
What say you?