Xenon Entertainment Group // 2009 // 79 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // July 30th, 2010
It's Australian for Fear.
I freely admit to being totally tickled when I saw the tagline to The Outback. Giving a shout out to those usually clever Foster's commercials (with their "Fosters. It's Australian for beer" motto) was actually pretty clever. So clever, in fact, that I'm almost half convinced that the producer's chose to rename the film (from its original title of Prey) to The Outback simply to capitalize on that funny phrase. The humorous nature of the tagline actually fooled me into thinking I might watch something other than another city-folks-lost-in-the-woods film. Sadly, I was let down, and The Outback is a thoroughly standard "stranded campers" type film that does nothing to distinguish itself as either particularly good or particularly bad.
Twenty years ago, some tourists stumbled on the wrong part of the Outback, a site sacred to aboriginal peoples. They met a rather grisly fate, and that's how The Outback opens. The film then fast forwards to the present day, as three couples decide to travel through the Outback to their vacation destination. Along the way tensions flare, their car breaks down, and they end up at the same spot as those tragic tourists twenty years ago. Naturally, they start to get picked off in grisly fashion.
First, the good. The Outback isn't a horrible movie. The acting is uniformly solid for the genre. The creepy "villain" looks and acts sufficiently weird to be menacing, and all the actors play their stereotypes convincingly. There's the buff gay guy, the hippy healing-with-crystal woman, the responsible female, immature but charming guy, etc. They're standard types, but they're played with enough conviction to make them tolerable, if not sympathetic. The horror/gore aspects of the film are pretty good by genre standards as well. After the prologue's initial violence, the film takes a while to get back to the killing, but once it's there it delivers the goods. There are some clever kills, and the gore is handled pretty well too. When the film is in the Outback, it does a pretty good job of showing off the landscape. It's no Walkabout, but the locations are used effectively.
Now, the bad. There's nothing really to distinguish this film from any other backwoods slice-and-dice flick. Not even the Outback setting is unique, since a number of Australian horror films have exploited the location the past few years. None of the characters sticks out as particularly interesting, and the situation itself doesn't generate any tension anymore. There's also some seriously questionable use of special effects. It looks like most of the "night" scenes were shot on a soundstage or at some random location and then composited with shots meant to evoke the Outback. They might actually be location shots, but it's hard to tell with the iffy compositing job that's been done. Bad compositing isn't usually enough to sink a film (even the much loved Evil Dead has some dodgy shots of the full moon), but the shots in The Outback are frequent and distracting enough to take away from the overall film. None of this stuff makes the film horrible, especially not by genre standards, but the lack of any distinguishing features is damning enough.
Verdict was sent a screen of The Outback, so it's difficult to comment on the final product. However, from what I can see, The Outback looks and sounds fine. The cinematography emphasizes the gritty, washed-out textures of the landscape, and the 5.1 audio keep the Aussie dialogue audible and balanced. There were no extras on this disc, but one hopes for at least a making-of featurette or commentary to discuss some of the specifics because of the film's rather odd look.
The Outback is standard genre fare. Nothing about it is really bad (aside from a few bad moments of compositing) but none of it is really good either. Fans of Australian horror or backwoods slashers might find something redeeming in the film, but pretty much everyone else should give the flick a pass.
It might be Australian for fear, but The Outback is still guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Xenon Entertainment Group
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 79 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Unrated