L'Etrange 2012 Review: THE OUTING Delivers Thrilling Mixture of Hitchcock and Brothers Grimm

Brian Clark, European Editor
Two things become immediately clear in Mathieu Seiler's suspenseful adult fairy tale, The Outing: First, that this isn't going to be your average lost-in-the-woods horror movie. From the colorful opening credits, which pay equal homage to Saul Bass and vintage Giallo films, to the seemingly banal family conversations dominating the first 10 minutes, there's a subtle sense of fantasy and menace lurking beneath the surface of every frame and in between every line of dialogue. It immediately puts the audience off-balance and creates a sense that anything might happen.

The second thing quickly made clear is that Seiler is a director completely in control of his material, one who can masterfully juggle multiple moods. Throughout the film he jumps from whimsy to wonder to comedy to sheer terror and back again without missing a beat, and he does so while continually ratcheting up the suspense.

It should go without saying at this point that The Outing is a real treat, and thus far, it's easily the most exciting discovery I've made at L'Etrange Festival. It begins with Natalie, her husband Maxim, her daughter Flora and her sister Stella driving out of the city and into the wilderness for a picnic and an escape from civilization. Flora keeps going on about the disappearances in the woods that she's heard about on the radio, but, of course, no one pays much attention.

There's a solid 15 minutes of banter between the characters here, but again, the performances all suggest something more sinister, be it repressed family drama or something much more fantastic. The aggressive way that Seiler cuts between all of the characters in the car ride only heightens this feeling.

Soon enough, they picnic and eventually, doze off for the requisite post-meal nap. But the nap doesn't go so well. The three woman wake up scattered around the woods, injured and bleeding. They have no idea where they are, and Maxime is gone. After wandering for a bit, they find a cheerful house deep in the woods with the stove burning and no one home.

I'll leave it at that, adding only that at one point during their ride to the woods we see an ominous shadow shaped like a wolf watching them drive away. But honestly, it's best to just trust Seiler and go along for the ride. He navigates the twisting story like a pro, knowing exactly what to show and what to keep hidden for maximum unease. More impressively, he maintains the intensity without sacrificing the sense of wonder and possibility that accompany the best adult fairy tales.

All three actresses give near-flawless performances, which also contribute enormously to the film's unique style. Alina Sophia Wiegert is most compelling as Flora. She immerses us in the imagination of a young girl, where fantasy and reality often collide and intermingle. Both adults play off this mood, straddling a fine line between this otherworldly state of mind and a desperate belief in reality.

The payoff is a bit anti-climactic, but only in terms of what we expect from traditional suspense films. But while Seiler has clearly learned tried-and-true techniques from the masters, the film is anything but traditional, and the ending not only offers an interesting riff on the classic "return of the repressed" theme, but also leaves  a number of questions well worth contemplating. Here's hoping this one finds international distribution so that it can get the wider audience it deserves.

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