Outpost Doom [2009]

Two convicts escape from a prison in the middle of a rainstorm–and on the run from a hideous tentacled monster. They take refuge in a barn that initially seems to be deserted, but soon turns out to be inhabited by a motley gang of survivors from some unknown apocalyptic event (probably related to the monster). Tensions are already running high between the survivors, and the arrival of the two cons only adds fuel to the growing fire. That’s when they start being killed, one by one. What secrets are the convicts and the survivors, and can they work together long enough to save themselves?

Reviewing microbudget, ultra-indie, “backyard” films such as Outpost Doom is always a bit hard for me. On the one hand, such films usually suffer mightily from amateurish writing, acting, direction and editing, not to mention laughably cheap-looking effects. On the other hand, they’re also made out of love of the genre (and whatever subgenres they may be pastiching) and the enthusiasm of the cast and crew can often infect the audience (much like a fungal infection can). I often find myself caught between the two points of view I see things from: that of the diehard horror fan who’s happy to see fellow fans keeping the genre (and subgenre) alive, and that of the snob who expects to see a polished product made by people who know their craft.

So I’m going to start off by being bluntly honest: someone who’s not used to watching movies with budgets of four figures or less is going to look at Outpost Doom and see a terrible film, and that would be an assessment I have some sympathy with. The production values are extremely low, particularly when it comes to the sound mix, which is the bane of my existence as far as the ultra-indies are concerned. Too many times I found myself cranking up the volume to hear the dialogue (something something DVD does not feature subtitles), only to have to hastily crank it back down when some sound effect threatened to shake the walls of my apartment building down to the foundation. There’s also some very obvious CGI and clumsy editing (one character attacks another character in full view of the rest of the group, who then seem to believe that the attacked character was the one who instigated the violence).

The biggest problem with the film is the script. Not the story itself, which is actually handled fairly well. Nor the characterization–while I’ve ranted long and hard about “character development through bickering” in the past, this is a movie where it actually works.

But there are a lot of tiny details that don’t really seem to add up. The biggie, for me, is that the survivors seem to have been in the barn for a couple of weeks before the cons show up, but they haven’t thoroughly explored it yet, nor do they realize that there’s another person hiding in the barn’s loft. (On the other hand, several members of the group seriously theorize that the cons have been hiding in the barn for days.) Another sticky wicket is the fact that two of the characters (and there are way too many of them) seem to have very been good friends in the past, but don’t recognize each other until several hours of story time has passed. (I do realize this isn’t outside the realm of plausibility, but the chemistry and shared history between the characters made it very hard to buy for me.)

Then there are the twists themselves. The killer is easy to work out–not only because the character is the obvious one to build a twist around, but because the character so obviously behaves outside the parameters of what we’re supposed to think we know about them. The convicts’ secret is also pretty obvious, largely because of an early effects sequence which is, admittedly, forgivable as it works as foreshadowing. But when you take everything into account, the fact that there are so many monsters wandering around just feels like waaaay too much.

On the other hand…

The film has a ramshackle, AIP-B-picture vibe that I enjoyed the hell out of. It’s even shot in black-and-white, and while director Matthew Kister doesn’t always make the most of it, he still works fairly well with it. The effects, while not even remotely believable, mostly look cool from an aesthetic point of view (the CGI rain being the major exception); I didn’t find this to be a problem because I don’t always expect effects to be realistic. I particularly loved the tentacles, which were obviously foam-filled appendages during the barn scenes and (I love this to bits) someone’s fingers during the opening chase scenes. The cast isn’t even remotely professional-grade, but there’s no outright duff performances and there’s great chemistry between the actors which goes a long way towards selling the situation.

Overall, I wouldn’t call Outpost Doom essential viewing for anyone, and I’d definitely advise viewers who expect a more professional level of filmmaking to give it a wide berth. But if you’re the kind of fan who’s able to appreciate efforts such as Colonel Kill Motherfuckers, Dead Bodies Everywhere, and Ludlow, you stand a good chance of finding a few things to appreciate here.

My rating: 5 of 10.

83 minutes. Directed by Matthew Kister. Starring Jeremy Cech, Rhyann Crooks, Steve Eaton, Jeff Gustafson, Braden Johnson.

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