FILM REVIEW: Outpost 11

outpost11-posterWhat to make of debut films, especially independent ones? Valiant efforts and training grounds? Valid pieces of art in their own right? Does James Cameron look back fondly on Piranha 2? Does Peter Jackson admit the flaws in Bad Taste? Time will tell whether Anthony Woodley will make a classic film. Woodley wrote and directed Outpost 11, which is best described as a psychological thriller. Not quite steampunk. Barely horror. It has its moments – both good and bad – and deserves a little attention.

From watching the film, there’s not much explicit in the kind of world we’re dealing with. We’re thrown in without exposition, which is a positive. Clues abound and there are slow reveals within the dialogue. Britain is at war with Prussia. The three characters are dressed as if it were around World War I. They are based in the titular outpost in the Arctic, listening for enemy transmissions. Similar outposts are not too far away – a few days walk maybe. There has been a great Battle of Antarctica in the recent past, although there is no explanation of why these cold places are a battle ground. Britain is probably losing the war. The mission, as well as listening, is it keep an eye on the Omega Core, which shows the viewer that steam power is at the forefront of technology. It’s not clear why this core is so important, but our protagonists are wary of it. There’s been little contact with the outside world and paranoia has set in when we join Billy Clarke, playing Graham, and Joshua Mayes-Cooper as Albert. They clearly don’t like each other. Luke Healy’s Mason arrives from out hunting hare and Graham challenges him to prove he is who he says he is. Graham has a bite on his hand, and the warning light keeps flashing, although the siren isn’t going off. There is mention of Psychotropic weaponry and spiders appear to be a big deal. Graham hates spiders!

Outpost 11 is a film about loneliness and madness. Woodley throws in elements of mis-direction and false clues, all resulting in an interesting if flawed pay-off. In some scenes, the camera never stops, suggesting that there is someone else watching, bringing about a voyeuristic quality. Other scenes are static, but framed in such a way to suggest a picture. It is also a film that suggests warmongers and states play games with soldier’s lives, and also about the dangers to everyone of biological warfare.

Psychotropics are chemical substances that affect the function of the brain, usually by altering perception as well as mood, behaviour and the general ability to think. These chemicals do this by going from someone’s blood to their brain. I’m not sure how they would be weaponised, as described in Outpost 11. Which might be a hint.

So is this steampunk? Not really. Not in the style of much steampunk fiction. More likely, this is a realist version of steampunk. There’s talk of computers and a secret plan (Plan 9 in a nod to cult film fans) presented via a video cassette. The tech that needs power uses steam but tech that doesn’t, doesn’t. So there’s no need for steam-powered rifles, for example. Which makes the scenes in the Omega Core more interesting because as a viewer, you know something different is going on. Sadly, although you can guess, you’re never quite sure what exactly it is.

And there’s the elephant in the room. The problem with some low budget independent film-making. Just as the line ‘I think we have a problem, sir’ is uttered, the mike boom appears on screen. And not for the first or last time. There are very unrealistic stop motion spiders. While the idea of stop motion is nice (and probably cheap), it looks out of place. Although there may be some method in that madness. The acting is patchy, with Clarke as the standout performer, depicting the descent into madness with aplomb. While Mason is meant to be officer class and above his men, Healey comes across as a bit wooden in his delivery. Bernard Hill’s appearance is in voice-over only, which is a shame. The sound design and music, by Charlie Khan takes the film from poor to decent. The soundtrack mixed together with the repetitive clanging from the steam tech is as close to genuinely disturbing as the film gets.

So, Outpost 11 is flawed – both technically and narratively – but has interesting moments No-one would admit to it being a good film, but there are some noteworthy ideas. It lacks wit and charm to be much more than a sidebar in the paranoia subgenre. The elements of boredom and loneliness are well shown. It feels like a good idea for a short film, or a scene in a longer, different film, stretched too thin. There aren’t enough interesting plot points and the narrative is too one-track. It’s certainly no The Thing but then what is?

Rating 2/5
Reviewer Ian J Simpson

 

 

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