Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sunday Movie Theater: Outpost (2008)

Combo of supernatural, sci-fi, undead and Nazi

Leaving the lighthearted comedy in the first posting and exotic mystical adventure in the second, Sunday Movie Theater opens with a dark horror movie this time. ^^

Movie Poster from IMDB.

Trailer of the movie.
Video clip is from Youtube. Follow this link to the website if you can't see anything.

"Outpost", a 2008 movie directed by Steve Barker. Technical movie details can be seen on IMDB.

Hired by a businessman as bodyguards, a band of merchandises led by DC (played by Ray Stevenson) uncovered an old German World War II bunker. A supposedly simple task at first turned into absolute horror for the soldiers as they were picked off one by one by a mysterious dark force at the bunker in various sadistic and brutal manners. As the secrets of the bunker's true purpose was unveiled, DC and his men began to realize that none of them was going to make it out of that death trap alive.

By the sound of it, and my feeling after re-watching the movies a couple of times, "Outpost" can be considered as a rather typical horror survival film. ^^ Without dealing too much into the technical details of the so-called "mysterious dark force" mentioned above, I guess I can say it's a ghost movie as well. Horror, survival and ghost are prominent story elements that continue to garner interest (and profit from moviegoers ^^) among movie audiences throughout the years. Fearing the unknown is a feeling that exists in all of us I think, and for many, the more you fear it, the more you want to stay and find out more. ^^ Storytellers and movie makers certainly understand this very well, as many ghost movies or horror movies in general can be seen feeding on that intriguing human nature. ^^

I can see that even until today, majority of ghost movies seems to be made using a standard template. ^^; Some strange events happen, a clueless protagonist gets involved, more strange things happen, the protagonist gathers information on what was going on, even more strange things happen, the protagonist finds one or two key people who know everything about the strange occurrence, and would narrate the entire back story, the protagonist confronts the source, seemingly successful in doing so to project a possible happy ending, some unforeseeable plot twists occur, everything goes bad, more narration to piece together the missing information to explain the sudden turn of event, no happy ending, the end. ^^; The major story device used to link the plots together and keep the audience's interest till the end are usually the gory, grotesque killing scenes meant to scare the audience off their seats, but hope that they would stay for more (sounds ridiculous ^^;). We are terrified of the scary scenes but we want to know why it happened to the people in the movie.

Unfortunately, as with many things, the same formula becomes cliched very quickly. While cliche isn't necessarily a bad thing through and through, many storytellers and movie makers feel the need to add in strange ideas to deviate from the "template" to create something different. The intention is noble, but the actual execution can be absolutely horrible for some (many I think). For these movies, the story is told in a very confusing manner, with plots put together which are often out of order to show "creativity" in story design, and killing scenes with massive degree of gore and blood to show "creativity" in visual effects. Then again, they forget that if the story is too confusing, audience members will have a hard time finding the horror element (because they are too busy understanding the plots ^^;), and if the gory scenes are too crazy and become sickening to accept, the effects not their relevance to the story become the points to be scared of, thus invalidate their occurrence in the movie to link to the actual story. Some horror movies have the potential to be extremely interesting and enjoyable to watch, but because of all the unnecessary tricks pushed into the story, they become the movies I want to avoid instead. ^^;

So, back to "Outpost". ^^ Is there any special element in the movie that can be considered brand new and creative in the horror survival genre?

The answer is no. XD

Like I said at the beginning, it's a rather typical movie, but it's still very well done for a couple of reasons. Firstly, in dealing the so-called "mysterious dark force" that terrorized the soldiers, I think it's great that the writer didn't keep them in the dark (figuratively ^^;) and let the characters (as well as the audience members) guessing about them till the very end of movie to create suspense. As a matter of fact, much of it is pretty much completely explained around the middle of the story. Instead of losing the potential for suspense, it helped to reinforce the element of horror in the movie in my opinion. The soldiers now know what they are dealing with, but they are still being picked off one by one. The enemy's identity was no longer a secret to them halfway through the movie, yet they weren't going to do any better in any way.

Secondary, the back story of the adversary in "Outpost" is well explained and is actually believable. I absolutely hate horror movies that use mysterious or spiritual force as the "villain" to create horror scene and cause troubles to the characters at the beginning, yet their existence is never explained and is rendered useless when the story reveals that a human character is the actual mastermind behind everything at the end of the movie (the plot twist). That's not horror, it's deception that leaves a lot of question marks when the plot twist occurs, which often destroys the entire movie premise and buildup throughout. That's certainly not the case with "Outpost". The dark force's origin is pretty well explained - blame it all on crazy desperate Nazi experimentation during World War II (^^;). There's some scientific element inserted as well, which adds some realism to the setup, just from the movie's perspective that is. ^^;

Thirdly, the overall grim setting supports the story very well, and I don't mean just the bunker itself. The sky was all gloomy and gray when the soldiers were shown outside the bunker, and that helped to strengthen the dark atmosphere of the movie. The bunker itself is absolutely creepy. The darkness inside it is the perfect medium for some really scary scenes, which were indeed included. ^^ The brief scene with the running dead soldier is very creepy, and the absence of any music in that short scene was very effective to give the horror a level up as well. I remember I was genuinely spooked when I first watched it. ^^

Fourthly, scarce but effective usage of special effects. As compared to other horror movies, the special effects used in "Outpost" is extremely little. A lot of props and lighting tricks were used instead, which were very well done. Most of the killing scenes were pretty nasty and gory, but even they were shot with real actors (including the mysterious enemies featuring actors in suits and heavy make-up I think). Regardless of the budget constraint or technical limitation in the production of this movie, using real actors just made the scenes more believable, i.e. scarier in my opinion. ^^

Fifthly, the characters themselves. None of the characters is particularly likable in my opinion. The businessman who hired the mercenaries is a selfish man, while the seven soldiers (including the protagonist) were either selfish, greedy, self-centered, arrogant, cowardly and compulsive. Most actually exhibited more than one unlikable characteristics listed above. So, there was no "why does this character has to die?" moment in the movie and makes you question the enemy's motive or sympathize with the victims. Everyone must "go". ^^; So the killings in the movie, however contrived the killing methods used, supported the story well in my opinion.

Sixthly, the surprising twist at the very end. As mentioned earlier on, having a surprising turn of event towards the end of the movie is a very dangerous design for a horror movie. It can make the movie extremely memorable if done right. Otherwise, it has the potential to destroy the entire story before the shock element. In "Outpost", I do think that the surprising twist is very well done. Not only does it make sense, it was hinted all along throughout the movie. It validated a few of scenes earlier on in the movie which didn't seem to make much sense when you first watch them. Some might have even seen it coming miles away before the actual reveal. Nonetheless, it's an element of surprise that was used very well in my opinion.

All in all, "Outpost" is a very well done horror movie. Its typical storyline, lack of special effect and no super big names in the cast list are deceptive to its overall quality, and set a good example to how horror movies can be done well without relying too much on CG even when it's common and well established today. ^^

On the other hand, I'm aware that there was a second "Outpost" movie released last year, called "Outpost: Black Sun". I have yet to watch that, so no comment on its connection with this at the moment. ^^;

Trailer of "Outpost: Black Sun".
Video clip is from Youtube. Follow this link to the website if you can't see anything.

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