Blend of contemporary found footage with traditional superstition, They’re Outside starts casual and becomes surprisingly effective
They’re Outside is about Sarah (Chrissy Randall), who hasn’t been outside for several years; and about the YouTube pop psychologist Max Spencer (Tom Wheatley) who challenges himself to get her taking her first steps over the threshold within the next ten days. It’s also – like Antrum – a “film within a film”, and allegedly a cursed one too. The central film is introduced by Richard Hill, Professor of Folklore at the University of Sussex (Nicholas Vince), who talks about a character called “Green Eyes” who haunts the woods of southeast England, and a young woman who lived there until recently, Penny Arnold (Emily Booth). Max’s mission to help Sarah progresses, the connection between these people and the local legend becomes apparent.
Written by Airell Anthony Hayles, and directed also by him in partnership with Sam Casserly, They’re Outside is essentially a found footage piece; though perhaps not if you’re a purist: there is that introduction, as well as music and a couple of additional clips edited in. This is how the “film within a film” structure works, and it probably wouldn’t have worked with the central film alone. I say this partly because of the film’s content, but also its mood: if I had started watching They’re Outside with Max’s egotistical YouTube introduction, I’d have found it tiresome straight away, but Vince’s opening blend of hammy and academic told me to give it a chance.
Max is awful. Awful as a psychologist, making sneering comments about his subjects to girlfriend Nicole (Nicole Miners), swearing at poor Sarah, and hardly taking her seriously at all. He’s no better as a boyfriend, either. Wheatley must have had fun playing him, and I certainly enjoyed hoping he got some comeuppance. Sarah, on the other hand, gets plenty of sympathy, perhaps because Randall played her so well: she is clearly scared, though you can see intelligence, sincerity, and even what used to be strength. With Vince and Booth adding some familiar genre faces, the cast is certainly a strong one.
They’re Outside is visibly influenced by The Wicker Man, but is most definitely an English film with mythology and characters I can believe in. Max is somewhat yuppy, Penny definitely a hippy pagan, and Sarah simply a middle-class Brit. I don’t know if Green Eyes is a real character from English folklore, but it certainly looks and feels like it, with some scenes filmed in a traditional Hastings “Jack in the Green” festival.
The credibility of the found footage and the spooky activity it presents is somewhat stretched as the film goes on, but fortunately, the sinister atmosphere also develops well so I don’t mind. There’s one particularly chilling moment that I had to pause to make sure I’d caught it right. It didn’t quite fit with the overall film, though – there was just one such moment – and it did feel like a few favorite influences and tropes had been added in by the filmmakers.
But never mind: They’re Outside is a low budget film made by dedicated fans of the horror genre. I hope they do well… and I’m certainly looking forward to the Christmas horror they are working on next.
This review was filed from FrightFest 2020. You can check our full coverage of the festival by clicking these words.
Alix has been writing for Ready Steady Cut since November 2017. They cover a wide variety, including genre festivals, and especially appreciates wit and representation on screen.