01st Sep2020

Frightfest 2020: ‘They’re Outside’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Emily Booth, Nicholas Vince, Tom Clayton-Wheatley, Chrissy Randall, Emma Burdon-Sutton, Nicole Miners, Brad Moore | Written by Airell Anthony Hayles | Directed by Airell Anthony Hayles, Sam Casserly

As I’ve said a million times before (well it feels that often) I dislike found footage films. I often think that the use of the format is a shortcut to create horror – in particular jump scares, cut corners in terms of filming quality and, with that, storytelling. However last years Death of a Vlogger managed to do new things with the format, bringing in the facets and tropes of vlogging, YouTube videos and live-streaming to create a truly modern, cutting edge take on a film format that has, frankly, been played out in the 20 years since The Blair With Project hit it big.

Now They’re Outside continues that trend, only this time throwing in Pagan mysticism into the mix. The film follows Max Spencer, a YouTube celebrity psychologist, host of the show ‘Psychology-Inside/Out’, who sets himself the challenge of getting an intensely agoraphobic woman – Sarah – to leave her home in just ten days. However, as the minutes, hours and seconds count down, a creepy local legend about the black magic practicing Green Eyes that holds the town in it’s grip, starts to become a horrifying reality…

Essentially a YouTube within a film, within a film, They’re Outside is a mix of Max Soencer’s YouTube show, a documentary put together buy Sarah’s friend (played by Emily Booth) and an opening featuring Hellraiser’s Nicholas Vince, as a professor who introduces the audience to the concept of “Green Eyes’ a mythological ‘being’ who resides in the woods of Hastings, taking people to his green house never to be seen again.

Whilst yes, They’re Outside is a found-footage film, the fact that its shot as a YouTube show actually gives the film a sense of reality, a sense of urgency. Those familiar with YouTube and the format will be right at home with what we see here. And it helps that Tom Clayton-Wheatley makes for a charismatic host, capturing the balance between performance and presenting. His performance feels like that of a man trying to do his best to make a good YouTube show and Tom Clayton-Wheatley manages to not only act as Max, but also as Max trying to act like a good presenter. He’s ably supported by Emily Booth as Penny, who’s role was described as a cameo but is really more than that – she’s the comedic outlet for the film when it goes to some dark places, discussing death, green eyes and the loss of a loved one. It’s easily Booth’s best role in years, showing a real maturity to the actress who’s mostly know for more ‘madcap’ genre films and roles.

However despite using the found footage format to make the most of the night-time shoots, the darkness of a house in the middle of nowhere, the creepiest thing about They’re Outside is not the found footage of the YouTube show we’re watching at all. The creepiest thing is the real-life footage of the Jack in the Green festival filmed in Hastings – interspersed with the film and oftentimes edited and colour-graded to look as eerie as possible, the footage really does give the film a real sense of otherworldly terror, in a similar vein to the classic The Wicker Man.

Sadly They’re Outside falls completely apart in the last ten minutes, abandoning everything that came before it to essentially retread the ending of The Blair Witch Project – running through the woods in shaky cam footage, and an “incident” that may or may not be supernatural. There’s a pay off in regards to the comments made about our host, Max’s, own psychological issues and a notion that his own familial trauma may have had more of an impact on him than even he knew but it doesn’t overcome the fact that it all feels too “Blair Witch” compared to the rest of the film.

*** 3/5

Definitely a great calling card for filmmakers Airell Anthony Hayles and Sam Casserly, They’re Outside screened at this years Frightfest Digital Edition on Saturday August 29th.


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