One of the fantastic things about FrightFest over the years has been the festival’s commitment to new talent; this year, as in previous years, the festival had no shortage of new and exciting ideas, including They’re Outside by British directors Airell Anthony Hayles and Sam Casserly. They’re Outside takes the classic ‘found footage’ format of ‘The Blair Witch Project‘ and mixes it with Pagan traditions and folklore to create something genuinely engaging, if not perfect. I am sure many of you have spent hours searching through YouTube’s cavern of creations, stumbling on a few homemade gems by accident, from comedy to cooking shows and ghostly expeditions. Each video is a tasty morsel with which to while away the hours, the short and snappy creativity laced with the energy of young people taking their first steps in media production. But what if that carefree exploration of life led you into a darker world of horror?
This question forms the core of They’re Outside; as an amateur online psychologist, Max (Tom Clayton-Wheatley) sets himself a challenge far beyond his limited understanding. Tom’s mission is to cure Sarah (Chrissy Randall) of her agoraphobia in just ten days while filming the progress for his eager online viewers. However, appearances can be deceptive, and denial can prove deadly, as psychology meets folklore in the woods of East Sussex.
Shot on a tiny budget, the YouTube-inspired design and cinematography work well in achieving a sense of documentary-like realism, taking clear inspiration from BBC’s Ghost Watch and A Warning to the Curious (1972). Meanwhile, the folklore plays to ancient legends such as “The Green Man”. But, it is also here where They’re Outside stumbles, missing a prime opportunity to create something uniquely different; after all, the “Green Man” legend is a part of British folklore relatively untouched in horror, with the notable exception of The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982) and The Wicker Man (1973). Therefore, more focus on the folklore at hand could have elevated, They’re Outside in it’s core horror.
But, despite this, They’re Outside does manage to create moments of delicious tension, from the first meeting of Max and his subject to the darkness of the final act. Performances, direction and design are strong enough to carry the audience, and while the momentum may be lost mid-way through the story, there is much to admire.
The world premiere of They’re Outside is at FrightFest 2020 on Saturday, 29th August, at 7 p.m. on the Horror Channel Screen as part of the New Blood strand.