By CHRIS HALLOCK
Starring Nicole Brydon Bloom, Austin Larkin, Claire Lord
Written and Directed by Matias Breuer & Liam Hall
Indie horror’s arena of choice (or necessity) is frequently a secluded house in the woods, a classic setting used to eerie effect in recent indie ventures like Pyewacket (2017), The Hole in the Ground (2019), and The Deeper You Dig (2020). HERE ON OUT similarly situates its crew of floundering twenty-somethings in a remote forest dwelling where upsetting secrets are unearthed, and a misguided prank has terrible consequences. The film provides an opportunity for its creative team, Matias Breuer and Liam Hall, to examine the millennial generation’s disappointing adulthood prospects against this backdrop of isolation.
Upon college graduation, a group of friends gather at a cabin to reconnect and cut loose before embarking on their chosen paths. Aspiring writer Frances (Nicole Brydon Bloom), and her friends Barb (Claire Lord) and Lauren (Tess Tregellas), are surprised to find that Frances’ slacker brother, Hal (Austin Larkin) and his immature pal, Terry (Fergie L. Philippe) are already there when they arrive. The quaint cabin was once the home of Frances and Hal’s occultist grandmother and offers a private place to bond while they ponder their futures. Frances is bitter about a past transgression, but eager to patch things up with the group, which they accomplish through a night of spooky folklore and drunken shenanigans. The party vibes are soon dampened when an unintentionally confessional game of “Never Have I Ever” stirs up festering resentments, fraying the group’s already strained relationships. Weird events start happening, and everyone fears the cabin is cursed by a local legend. When Lauren disappears, Terry suspects a neighbor, James (W. Scott Parker III) of foul play, triggering an unexpected and violent encounter.
HERE ON OUT earns points for putting a new spin on the overdone cabin-in-the-woods framework, however, the project plays better as a young adult drama than as an exercise in terror. Breuer and Hall rarely capitalize on the forest atmosphere for their scares, keeping most of the action indoors and restricting the story to the well-lit confines of the tidy cabin: an environment that reads more cozy than creepy. The filmmakers eschew the occult elements in favor of a paranoid mystery, grounding the events in an ordinary reality, and focusing chiefly on the interpersonal drama. The story is structured around a series of existential conversations and petty arguments shared between characters; their exchanges are well-drawn and believable, but frequently surface at the expense of cultivating any truly thrilling moments. Most egregiously, this storytelling tactic dilutes the tension moving toward a darker third act, leaving the viewer ambivalent about the outcome.
HERE ON OUT may not have been conceived to shock or disturb, but a misleading setup and minimal chills may disappoint those craving a supernatural horror fix. The work does show that Breuer and Hall are capable of nurturing solid performances from their eager ensemble of charismatic newcomers, especially promising up-and-comer Bloom, whose vulnerability draws us into Frances’ plight in a similar way to her role in the recent sleeper 1BR (2019). Although the natural setting doesn’t evoke fear, there are some beautifully composed images of the natural world that provide an ethereal sense of place where one might believe something magical could happen, even of the darker variety. The film mainly suffers from a lack of distinguishing atmospheric touch and intensity that prevents it from achieving its full potential and standing out among the competition in today’s formidable indie horror film market.
HERE ON OUT will be available via most streaming platforms on December 15th, 2020 from Gravitas Ventures.