DIRECTOR: MIKE GREEN | SCREENPLAY: MIKE GREEN, BRIEN KELLY | STARRING: KYM CRAMP, BRENDAN DONOGHUE, LAUREN LOFBERG
Outback is not a horror film but it is, in its gruelling intensity, based closely on real life events, pretty horrifying. There are no jump scares, no mutated hillbillies, no masked slasher or supernatural menace, just a young couple with no idea of the dangers they face and the wild Australian landscape.
Starting out as portrayal of a romantic holiday gone wrong (after a rebuffed public proposal on the flight – this writer would have done the same) we initially see a young American couple, awkward, prickling and bristling at things unsaid, often coming across as spoiled and annoying. On a whim they decide to ditch their meticulously plotted drive along the Australian coast and head into the outback to see Ayers Rock, armed with nothing more than some variation of Google Maps on their phone to guide them and a hasty stocking up on little more than kangaroo jerky and a bottle of water on the way. Predictably enough, given the sheer hubris of this particular road trip, things soon start to go wrong.
A cynical viewer might watch all this thinking ‘Well these idiots have earned their Darwin award’ (and the truly cynical may never get beyond this) but, as things spiral from worrying to terrifying to staring death in the face, the obvious love and self sacrifice depicted in the film should hopefully melt those assumptions, showing a more resilient, resourceful and determined side to characters we might have written off as spoilt millenials at the beginning of the film.
This depends solely on the strength of Lauren Lofberg and Taylor Wiese in the central roles, whose time in screen amounts to at least 90% of the film, lingering scenery shots included. The two invest in their roles completely and, coupled with some solid make up work and a lack of fear in covering themselves in good Australian dirt, they do allow for sufficient immersion in their peril to make Outback a difficult watch built on empathy, rather than a sneering one built on derision.
And, on the subject of deriding the characters’ poor choices, it should also be borne in mind that this is a true story. Whatever a viewer might think about the implausible naivety of these characters walking into danger unprepared, these characters really did do that. This also makes all the more impressive the sacrifices and struggles to come.
It’s an intense film but sadly, being based on true events, any attempts to draw a moral or central theme (which Outback does rather clumsily try) are likely to fail, leaving the film somewhat empty at the end, which is disappointing, especially after the gruelling journey it takes to get there.