Outpost Explores the Horrors of Abuse and Isolation
Posted On July 2, 2023
Whenever I get stressed out, overwhelmed, or just fed up with life, I joke about running off to live in a treehouse. I love the idea of climbing high up in the air in a building surrounded by nature where no one can find me. It seems Kate (Beth Dover), star of the psychological horror film Outpost has the same idea. After surviving a brutal incident of intimate partner violence, she accepts a job as a park ranger at a remote fire lookout tower in the Idaho Mountains unfortunately filled with the ghosts of her horrific past. Written and directed by Jo Lo Truglio, Outpost is a harrowing journey through trauma, recovery, and psychosis as Kate attempts to hide away from her pain and finds that the old saying is true: wherever you go … there you are.
Outpost begins in the immediate aftermath of Kate’s assault. She convinces her best friend Nickie (Ta’Rea Campbell) to pull strings and get her a job where she can hide away from her abusive partner who may still be on the loose. At first, this respite seems to be just what the doctor ordered. She ascends the isolated tower high atop a mountain peak well prepared to hide out and recover. But as the days go by, Kate’s mind begins to play tricks on her. She craves human connection even while fearing nearly everyone with whom she crosses paths. Even worse, she begins to see her abusive partner climbing the stairs to attack her again and the line between delusion and reality fades into the distance. Kate’s boss Earl (Ato Essandoh) is less than thrilled with her performance and insists she fulfill her obligation to protect the mountain he calls home. As Kate recovers, she does begin to shed her fear, but what grows in its place may be more dangerous than anything she’s encountered before.
In a strong debut, Truglio’s film plays out like a sun-bleached twist on The Shining. The story feels fresh and original thanks in large part to a fascinating performance from Dover and interesting directorial choices by Truglio. Kate begins to have flashbacks to prior abuse and sees violent men pop up in impossible places. Truglio films these hallucinations as if they’re actually happening and it becomes nearly impossible to tell fantasy from reality. This is all intentional of course and these fantastical interludes have a destabilizing effect that thrusts us into the confused headspace of our troubled heroine. The conclusion may be a bit predictable, but it’s still a devastating shock to see Kate fully lose herself in psychotic delusion.
In the midst of this chaos and gore lies a fascinating exploration of PTSD and the aftermath of abuse. Kate wants to hide away from the world instead of working through her pain in group therapy; a relatable choice, but one that ultimately turns out to be her undoing. She says she doesn’t want “all of those women looking at her,” which is understandable, but sometimes we need to surround ourselves with the people who will bring us down, because they are the ones with the power to bring us back up again on the other side. Kate’s fear takes root in her isolation and with no one around to reflect back reality, she begins to create dangerous fantasies about the few people she meets on the mountain. Passing the point of no return, she takes violent action to protect herself against aggressors who may or may not exist wholly inside her own mind.
Telling the story from Kate’s unreliable point of view occasionally leads to a jumbled narrative, but that’s often how PTSD can feel. The worst possible outcomes play through in your head without warning or logic and the smallest triggers can instantly turn a previously safe environment into a dangerous minefield. Outpost feels like an accurate depiction of this harrowing mental illness as well as the dangers of indulging the rage survivors tend to stuff down. It’s difficult to keep ourselves from giving in to the temptation to just burn it all down and shut the world out.
Though Kate carries the majority of the film’s narrative, Truglio populates the story with familiar character actors delivering fantastic performances. Essandoh provides the perfect sobering counterpoint to Kate’s teetering sanity. Though he comes across as a hard ass, later conversations reveal the importance of stability, security, and following through on what may seem like minute tasks. Nickie provides endearing and unwavering support for her best friend Kate and Campbell’s chemistry with her onscreen brother hints at complicated family dynamics. Dallas Roberts and Dylan Baker add an interesting wrinkle to Kate’s recovery. We’re never quite sure if we can trust them and Truglio uses these flawed but recognizable men to explore the terror of navigating the world as a survivor of domestic abuse. Becky Ann Baker breaks up narrative stretches that could easily become monotonous as Bertha, a fun and free-wheeling hiker who provides Kate with some much needed company. Adding to the tension is the fact that tt’s nearly impossible to determine which of these supporting characters can be trusted and which we should fear.
Truglio’s conclusion explodes in a bloody cacophony of violence with some brutally upsetting and visceral deaths. Though he does pull a few punches (and never delivers on Checkov’s balcony), the shocking revelation that we too have been misled feels like a jarring, but well-earned exclamation point to this harrowing emotional journey. Outpost is both an effective examination of trauma and the cycle of violence many survivors find themselves pulled into. Coming from a life filled with pain, Kate finds it difficult to accept safety and winds up creating the dangerous conditions she’s tried so hard to leave behind. Truglio’s impressive debut also works as an effective horror film and a parable about the dangers of trying to outrun your past. Even the furthest reaches of the isolated earth prove to be no escape from the darkest corners of the human mind.
Jenn Adams is a writer, podcaster, and film critic from Nashville, TN. Find her social media nonsense @jennferatu.