OUTBACK (2019)


Studio:      Lionsgate
Director:    Mike Green
Writer:      Brien Kelly, Mike Green
Producer:  Mike Green, Julie Kneebone
Stars:     Lauren Lofberg, Taylor Wiese, Brendan Donoghue

Review Score:



An American couple on vacation in Australia becomes hopelessly stranded in the harsh environment of the outback.



Wade and Lisa*s Australian vacation gets off to a rocky start and thus, so does ※Outback.§ Sweethearts since high school, Wade proposed to Lisa on their plane ride over the ocean from America. Hesitant about becoming an Army wife, Lisa said no, leaving Wade to tuck his tail between his legs in front of a cabin full of strangers mentally mouthing ※oof§ at the man.

We don*t actually see these awkward events, though specifics fill in retroactively as the film rolls forward. Rather, we get plopped into the uncomfortable position of being between a boyfriend and girlfriend navigating newfound frost on their relationship while pretending to enjoy a proper holiday. It*s not a particularly pleasant place to be for anyone onscreen or in the audience. Wade reminds Lisa of his burst bubble by sulking at every opportunity. Lisa annoyingly acts as though nothing out of the ordinary happened. Meanwhile, we*re five minutes into the movie worriedly wondering, ※there*s 80 more to go with this chilly couple?§ You might reconsider turning around and going home, even if Wade and Lisa don*t.

Initially obnoxious though they may be, there*s some narrative necessity for unflattering first impressions. Stubbornness dominates Wade*s personality, yet you can almost understand his frustration given the circumstances. Wade wants to selfishly punish Lisa by ignoring her advice while insisting his ideas about directions to take are infallible. But he also wants to prove his value as someone Lisa can count on. One can see how his desperate attitude comes from an insulted ego, even if he expresses himself like an arrogant alpha jackass because of it.

The irony of course is that Lisa is right to be reticent because Wade can*t in fact be relied upon to know what*s best for them. When Lisa suggests getting a GPS system to go with their rental car, Wade insists the maps on his phone will work fine. When Lisa questions the lack of cell service in the wilderness, Wade sarcastically questions her sense of adventure. And when a series of sudden reroutes spurs Lisa to suggest turning around instead of continuing in circles, Wade utters two ominous words for any thriller*s first act: ※trust me.§

Having made every mistake possible to put them at the outback*s nonexistent mercy, how bad can a few more dumb decisions be? Once they become lost in the middle of nowhere, Wade*s 1-watt idea for getting a lay of the land involves hiking an hour toward a distant ridge. By the time night subsequently falls, he can*t find their way back to the vehicle. Lisa and Wade are now not only lost in the desert, they*re completely stranded, starving, and thirsty too.

Without hearing directly from director Mike Green or his co-writer Brien Kelly, and maybe one or both of them address this in an interview somewhere, it*s impossible to detect which ※true story§ or urban legend ※Outback§ is supposedly based on. The details of Wade and Lisa*s ordeal are too generic to identify any unique ※inspired by true events§ instance. Crawling critters, dehydration, and malfunctioning motor vehicles are common components in countless stories of tourists encountering outdoor dangers in Australia. I find it amusing that ※Outback§ goes all in on a ※ripped from the headlines§ ruse though. Epilogue text even gets specific about kidney failure, nursing school, and moving to Minneapolis, making it look like Wade and Lisa are real people when they aren*t.

As an ※alone against the elements§ movie, ※Outback§ shares more in common with the survivalist drama of ※127 Hours§ than the fantasized horror of ※Wolf Creek§ (review here). Without the spectacle of a colorful serial killer, mutant monster, or other form of fictionalized ferociousness, ※Outback*s§ emaciated plotting doesn*t feature much by way of imminent threats for Wade and Lisa. That*s a big missing ingredient for building tension, shocks, or suspense that can qualify as cinematic.

Wade and Lisa each encounter a snake. Lisa also suffers a scorpion*s sting while Wade gets one from a jellyfish. Other than that, Wade and Lisa*s harrowing experience consists chiefly of wandering around beige rocks and dealing with the dilemma of having to drink their urine. Occasionally a howl in the distance might spook someone or there*s a pause to taste test which plants might be edible. Then it*s back to the cycle of dry mouths and bright sunlight as Wade and Lisa resume their futile search to find the line they followed in the first place.

※Outback§ isn*t poorly produced. Even though similar landscapes pass by like reused backgrounds on a Flintstones cartoon, the film gains a fair deal of production value out of reasonably attractive exterior locations. Lauren Lofberg and Taylor Wiese eventually warm up Lisa and Wade as much as their cold characterizations allow, or at least enough to keep the engine puttering at a low idle for what*s just a two-person movie. Incidentally, it*s odd that a third actor gets his own title card when he only appears in a single scene that*s of no consequence whatsoever.

The review score drops into the red zone because ※Outback§ doesn*t have the DNA to be evenly engaging. Resentment and regret color the pair of protagonists with an unattractive air. Sympathy gets further sapped by virtue of their plight being entirely the fault of laughably ill-prepared dunderheadedness.

※Outback§ could have told an identical tale in 25% of the time and not felt the draining effects of remote desert dullness. When end credits finally come to the rescue, we*re sent home without feeling thrilled or emotionally moved. Bundle everything above with the redundant beats of Wade and Lisa*s meager ※adventure§ (stagger, collapse, repeat), the film tires out its audience like we*re the ones suffering in the sun.

Review Score: 45