REVIEW: They’re Outside (2020) – FrightFest 2020 Digital Edition

dir. Sam Casserly & Airell Anthony Hayles.

YouTube psychologist Max Spencer (Tom Wheatley) specialises in “fixing” broken people. Though derided by professionals in his field, this does little to dissuade his self-confidence as he promotes his invasive brand of pop miracle cures in search of an ever greater number of clicks. The most recent vulnerable person to fall across his radar is Sarah (Chrissy Randall), an agoraphobe who hasn’t left her home in five years since the death of her little girl: only Sarah doesn’t believe her daughter’s dead, but rather taken by the spectral Green Eyes, a malevolent spirit said to haunt nearby Hastings woods.

Directors Casserly and Hayles frame this plot in a puzzle box of meta-layers, opening on the apparent suicide tape of Sarah’s friend Penny (Emily Booth) before cutting over to Richard, an folklore academic (played by the ever-charming Nicholas Vince). Richard explains that Penny had been working on a film cut together from Max’s footage: be warned, he grins, as Penny believed in Green Eyes and there are those who say her film – this film – is itself haunted, for as she was editing it, it was editing her.

And so on to Max and Sarah. He – bolshy with unquestioned male privilege – attempts to convince her that there is nothing supernatural to fear; that those knocks on the door are just children playing games; that the flipped furniture in her dead daughter’s bedroom only fell. As Max becomes increasingly fixated on getting Sarah to step outside (his YouTube show is, after all, called “Psychology: Inside/Out”) the possibility looms ever larger that something outside may want that too.

Taking its cues from the found footage of The Blair Witch Project (1999), pagan iconography from The Wicker Man (1973) and the fourth-wall creeping of Ringu (1998) and the end result is a genuinely unsettling folk horror. Ideas, too, of past trauma recall The Ritual (2017), and the fear that the something in the woods may not be as terrifying as the something in our own past.

Moving inexorably forward the narrative only ever has one inevitable end, though what is found in those closing moments is guaranteed to chill you to the bone.

Tim Coleman

THEY’RE OUTSIDE has its World Premiere at FrightFest 2020 Digital Edition on 29th August 2020.

Published by Tim Coleman

Film critic. Screenwriter. Academic.

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