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Joe Lo Truglio is well-known as one of the key members of the comedy group that once formed The State and starred in cult classics like “Wet Hot American Summer.” Fans of “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” may be startled to learn that the talented comic actor has tried his hand at genre cinema, delivering an odd duck of a thriller. "Outpost" shifts expectations of where it’s going, ultimately revealing that Lo Truglio has some strong genre chops. The problem is that he’s still learning the ropes when it comes to performance, screenwriting, pacing, and framing, resulting in a film that’s too choppy and ridiculous for too long for its gut-punch of a final act to really connect. Still, there’s enough going on in “Outpost” that I’m curious to see what Lo Truglio does next as a director, even if I hope it doesn’t take him away from maximizing his talents in front of the screen in future comedy projects.
“Bad things find me.” So says Kate (Beth Dover, Lo Truglio’s real-life wife), a woman who has been through something intensely violent and traumatic. We don’t know much of the details of the attack in her own home, but we hear parts of it in the open and see flashes represented as trauma across Kate’s face. There’s a sense after a traumatic event that someone is cursed, that bad things find them. And Kate takes this cursed feeling to the middle of nowhere to deal with her trauma. She gets a job at a remote outpost where solo operators scan the horizon for forest fires and record things like days since the last rain and relative humidity for the officials. Kate thinks being alone—away from the potential threat she sees in every stranger’s eyes—will rid her of the bad things. She’s wrong.
At first, “Outpost” feels like a traditional recovery or empowerment narrative. Of course, Kate will overcome her trauma and maybe even save the day. It’s not that movie. There are hints from the beginning that something is very broken in Kate, as she keeps seeing violent visions that seem to increase in intensity. She’s unsure if she can trust the only local in the area, a widower named Reggie (Dylan Baker), and her superiors—Earl (Ato Essandoh) and Dan (Dallas Roberts)—question if she’s up for the job. With Kate trapped in a remote location and growing increasingly unstable, I half-wondered if this was Lo Truglio’s COVID allegory. We all lost it a little bit in lockdown. But it’s not quite that movie either.
Lo Truglio draws interesting performances from his clearly talented supporting cast—props to Becky Ann Baker, too—but he can’t quite get Dover where she needs to be to make this part work. Part of the problem is how the writing reduces Kate to a series of shocked reaction shots as she sees things that may or may not be there. Unreliable narrators are tough roles because the performer has to play distrust in what we usually know to be true—what we can see with our own eyes. Dover never quite figures out this complicated character, a fatal flaw that makes Kate a pawn in the script instead of a fully-realized role. “Outpost” only succeeds if we are invested in Kate’s trajectory and ultimate fate, and I never was.
Still, the film does go to some unexpectedly gnarly places, hinting that Lo Truglio could one day make the effectively vicious thriller that he wanted this film to be. If he could dial back on the shaky camerawork and choppy editing until the climax, he could be an interesting genre filmmaker. I had no idea one of my favorite comedy actors had this in him.
On VOD now.