NB: this is a film I’ve remembered often in the last few weeks. The notes are slightly spoilery.
Around 2008-12, there were almost as many grim, downbeat epidemic zombie apocalypse movies as there were joyless chained-up-and-tortured pictures: in the cases of both sub-genres, attractive to low-budget film makers because costs can be kept down with limited settings and small cast, more interesting efforts like The Dead Outside all too easily got overlooked. This Scots movie, scripted by director Kerry Anne Mullaney and producer Kris R. Bird, could almost be a pendant to the 28 days later … films in its usage of very similar rules for its outbreak – victims seem to be mad rather than undead, and the incubation period is lightning-fast (with the added complication that a government vaccine which slows down but does not cure the condition has only served to enable its spread) – though the tone and plot are slightly closer to the post-nuke novel (and BBC TV play) Z for Zachariah.
In a swift, disorienting prologue, Daniel (Alton Milne) — an everyman who has survived cooped up with wife (Vivienne Harvey) and child (Robin Morris) in an isolated house in the border country — finally emerges to take to the road, only to lose his family in a sudden attack. He finds a suitable house down the road and moves in, only to discover a young woman who calls herself April (Sandra Louise Douglas) has fortified the farm, fought off the infected and created a self-sufficient, ruthless mode of living. April is reluctant to let Daniel stay and the few details of her past he gets from her seem provisional, but they form a tentative bond, which is shaken up when Kate (Sharon Osdin), a former nurse, wanders by, also seeking refuge but clinging to notions about reversing the disaster which she feels override April’s right to stay out of it (the victim of government experiments, April may be immune). It’s mandatory for the genre that any survivor status quo be shattered by the finale, which finds Kate trying to kidnap April and Daniel having to make hard choices as the expected crowd of shambling zombies show up (one gives vent to the traditional rural cry of ‘get off my fucking property’, a rare moment of humour) attracted by dissent among the survivors.
Shot quickly and with limited resources, it’s an unsettling and evocative little film, even if a few threads get lost. Daniel keeps having fantasy glimpses of his lost child, but it’s ambiguous as to whether the kid shows up at the end as a zombie; a few hints (a period photograph, a shot of April with blood on her mouth, the immunity to a blood-borne disease) suggest the girl may be an immortal (a vampire?); the old photograph is provisionally explained away as her grandmother and a substitute backstory involving neglectful, perhaps-abusive grandparents is flashed up without quite being confirmed. It’s well played by an unfamiliar cast, who convey a lot of feeling without a great deal of dialogue – and has an aptly wintery, harsh, dutch-angle, world-out-of-joint look. An extremely impressive debut.