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Outpost: Little Worth Remembering

August 28, 2009

Steve Barker’s feature debut, Outpost, places a group of mercenaries inside an abandoned bunker in an isolated region of present day Eastern Europe. Lurking just beyond the clearing awaits an unspeakable force from a time long past.  Left to their own devices, these men struggle to hold on to their beliefs in the face of certain death.

The first half of the movie delivers a methodically paced mystery. Hired by the secretive Hunt, DC (Ray Stevenson, The Punisher: Warzone) leads a motley crew of trained killers through dangerous terrain occupied by dueling forces.  The initial trek through the jungle effectively builds the tension while squelching radios and strange weather set the tone for this ghostly British tale.

The real fun of Outpost, though, is the mystery of Hunt’s hunt. Slowly moving through the dark, narrow hallways of the abandoned German bunker, DC suggests that others should have already discovered whatever treasures lie in waiting. “Others could have stumbled upon it, but they don’t know what to look for,” Hunt replies. He knows more than he lets on, quietly leading DC deeper into death’s domain.

DC’s men do find something, however; it is a “breather” buried beneath a mass of rotting flesh. This pale, sickly creature in a state of catatonia becomes the focus of Prior (Richard Brake, Perkins 14), the lone American soldier. Strangely, this sad, tortured victim incurs the angry, selfish wrath of said American. Sarcastic and physical, Prior is abusive and unapologetic in his handling of this frail man, creating a somewhat confusing scenario.

Barker, to his credit, does attempt to build each of his characters through their dealings with the impending fate of their situations. Trapped in isolation and surrounded by the history of a monstrous regime, these mercenaries spend much of the film engaged in discussions of faith vs. science.

Unfortunately, Barker is unable to effectively build a connection with his audience, leaving each philosophical snippet devoid of impact. A hanging crucifix prompts one mercenary to comment, “That doesn’t belong here.” It is an empty line and quickly falls away.

Barker, though, provides many tense moments early as our hunter (Julian Wadham of the now infamous Exorcist prequels) searches through file cabinets, discovers strange drawings, and unearths the key to a dangerous treasure. Like the superbly crafted Session 9, the setting here has a personality of its own. Watching Hunt sifting through the dusty files unleashes a flurry of unimaginable images, proving again that what goes unseen is always scarier. This place is monstrous; it has a story to tell.

Sadly, so much potential for narrative is carelessly passed over. Instead of lingering above Hunt’s shoulder to discover the recorded atrocities along with him, Barker moves too quickly toward revealing the mystery. Not enough time is spent digging and discovering, and Outpost quickly devolves into a zombie on the loose splatter fest.

Amidst the backdrop of Nazi war crimes and failed attempts at world domination, Hunt’s discovery finally unleashes the deadly forces perched along the tree line. Hell-bent on more than simple elimination, these Nazi’s are out for blood. The walking dead are vicious, and their savagery evokes sickening memories of brutality committed only 60 years ago. Stalked by condemned soldiers, these forgettable mercenaries act merely as blood filled devices ripe for popping. Unstoppable German soldiers spend the second half of Barker’s bloodbath convincingly piercing eyeballs, crushing skulls, and impaling torsos.

Combining elements of science fiction, philosophy, and zombie slaughter, Outpost delivers some captivating moments. And while swastikas, old black and white films, and a scientific discovery beyond comprehension attempt to add emotional depth to Outpost, this effort falls just short. None of the men ever distinguish themselves enough to make the audience care about their ultimate fate; and the science of Outpost, while interesting, never really evolves beyond mere convenience.

The catatonic stranger rescued from the stack of decaying bodies is a not too subtle plot device, but amidst the chaos of the film’s final act, the big reveal is yet another let down. Outpost does provide 90 minutes of solidly contrived tension but, in the end, leaves little worth remembering.

 

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