He’s Out There, the new American shocker filmed in Canada, has no pretensions to be anything other than an old school slasher. Unlike so many modern chillers which try to appear fresh by being clever, this film by first time filmmaking duo, director Quinn Lasher and writer Mike Scannell, works because of its simplicity.
He’s Out There‘s story revolves round a mad axe man (Ryan McDonald) in a scarecrow mask, who terrorises a woman Laura (Yvonne Strahovski) and her daughters Kayla and Maddie (Anna and Abigail Pniowsky) in their remote holiday home in the Canadian Lakes. His reason? For nothing other than the fact he enjoys doing it and feels they are ‘trespassing’ on his turf.
When you think about it the films like He’s Out There shouldn’t work. With minimal cast — there are only seven characters altogether, three of whom barely appear before they’re gone again — pared-back storyline and bad ass killer who doesn’t physically materialise until well into the film, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was dead before it even started. However it’s this very spareness which makes it come alive.
Though Laura’s husband Shawn (Justin Burning) turns up during the early stages of the film, and a local neighbour Owen (Julian Bailey) visits briefly, most of the film concerns just Laura and her daughters: even the killer, as said already, doesn’t put in an appearance until well into the action, resulting in his presence being felt more than actually seen for much of the film. Of the women it’s the Pniowsky sisters, who play Kayla and Maddie, that steal the show. Wonderfully realistic, they bring an authenticity to the young girl’s relationship which could only be found with real-life siblings.
The story though surprisingly simple – consisting of really little more than an elongated chase – is remarkably effective, and manages to hold your attention until the final frames. It’s not hard to see where the film found its inspiration.
The heyday of the slasher film, from the late 1970s until early 1980s, gave us some marvellously over-the-top women/children in peril and forest based outings, such as Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980), all of which are alluded to here with varying degrees of subtlety.
Shot in a hazy, natural palette, the film’s lush tones merely emphasise its dream like setting and otherworldly qualities. A cleverly incorporated subplot involving a story book which the girls read constantly, and a bizarre woodland tea-party which the killer uses to lure his victims into his twisted universe sounds misplaced on paper, but blend seamlessly on screen with the film’s overall sense of a freaky forest based fairytale.
Despite points in the film’s favour, it does at times verge on territory which pushes the boundaries of what’s permissible, even for horror. Towards the climax there is a distinct feeling that it could have fallen into the child abuse category which would have blunted its otherwise sharp edge.
Fortunately however this never becomes full blown and, though the result may be seen by some as sanitised, there is no denying He’s Out There works well without having to scrape the bottom of the barrel of acceptability for the sake of a few cheap shocks.
Director: Quinn Lasher
Writer: Mike Scannell
Stars: Yvonne Strahovski, Ryan McDonald, Stephanie Costa, Julian Bailey, Justin Bruening,
Abigail Pniowsky, Anna Pniowsky
Runtime: 89 mins