FrightFest VOD film review: They’re Outside
Found footage sans vérité3
Anton Bitel | On 29, Aug 2020
Director: Sam Casserly, Airell Anthony Hayles
Cast: Tom Wheatley, Chrissy Randall, Nicole Miners, Emily Booth, Nicholas Vince, Emma Burdon-Sutton
Watch They’re Outside online in the UK: FrightFest 2020
They’re Outside streams as part of FrighFest 2020 at 7pm on Saturday 29th August. For the full festival line-up and online ticket information, click here
They’re Outside, the feature debut of Sam Casserly and Airell Anthony Hayles, layers its central narrative in a succession of frames. On the one hand, it is the latest (and last) video made by YouTube pop psychologist Max Spencer (Tom Wheatley) with his girlfriend Nicole (Nicole Miners), as he challenges himself to persuade the severely agoraphobic Sarah Sanders (Chrissy Randall) to set foot outside her cottage in the woods – located near Hastings in Sussex, where previously Sarah’s young daughter had disappeared without trace. And, within Max and Nicole’s video, is a second video filmed by Sarah and her friend Penny Arnold (Emily Booth), which combines paranormal fakery with something altogether harder to explain. On the other hand, we are also watching a possibly cursed documentary, They’re Outside, edited together from Max’s “found footage” by Penny after Max and Sarah disappeared, and opening with a suicide video from Penny.
This documentary is formally introduced by Dr Richard Hill (Nicholas Vince – Hellraiser), Professor of Folklore at Sussex University, who connects the tragic fates of Max, Sarah and Penny to “Green Eyes”, the vagrant child snatcher of local oral myth named by Penny in her last recording.
The YouTube Channel for which Max was making his video is called Psychology – Inside/Out. This label reverberates through every level of a film where the barriers between inside and out, fake and real, doctor and patient, the psychological and the supernatural are constantly blurred. How did Max’s film, supposedly lost in an alternative dimension of endless woods, come to be found? Is Penny’s suicide video a part, impossibly, of They’re Outside, or something external to it? Do the figures that fill Sarah with such fear reside in the woods outside her house, or are they a reflection of something more internal to her?
As we watch these supposedly therapeutic sessions unfold, is Sarah or Max – with his misogyny, his aggressive bullying and his traumatising grief – the real case for psychological study? And as Max and Sarah grow closer, much to Nicole’s overt annoyance, might Green Eyes be less a folkloric exploiter of other people’s loss than a conventional metaphor for murderous jealousy?
Set around Hastings’ May Day celebrations, Casserley and Hayles’ folk horror first tells and then – irrationally – shows us a local legend, thus drawing on the found footage structure of The Blair Witch Project. It presents itself as a “cursed” film, complete with clumsy subliminal inserts, like Antrum: The Deadliest Film Ever Made. The problem, though, is that the reality effect has to be convincing for viewers to become fully and deliriously lost in the woods as to what is real, what is ghostly, what is psychological projection and what is fake. Somewhere between the overwritten dialogue, the stilted performances and the recognisability of Vince and TV presenter Booth, all vérité here has died.
If the viewer is not persuaded to believe or at least to suspend disbelief – essential attitudes for the open reception of found footage – then They’re Outside becomes more akin to the creaky, cheesy Ghost Train Max and Nicole ride in Hastings than to the intense, ambiguous psychodrama it seemingly wants to be, inside and out.