Outpost: A Riveting Cinematic Journey into Mental Health and Trauma

Joe Lo Truglio’s Outpost is a fascinating cinematic journey into mental health and cycles of trauma, with twists and turns you won’t expect.

Many have known Joe Lo Truglio as an accomplished character actor and comedian since he first broke onto the scene 30 years ago on MTV’s The State. However, this lifelong horror fan has decided to share his love of horror with us through his first film as a writer/director, Outpost.

Outpost recounts the tale of Kate (played by Orange is the New Black alum and Lo Truglio’s real-life wife, Beth Dover), a survivor of domestic abuse still struggling with the trauma of her past. After talking to her friend Nickie (Ta’Rea Campbell), she decides to volunteer for the Idaho Forest Service as a lookout for the next three months to escape and try to find peace. Upon her arrival, she meets her forest ranger counterparts, Ranger Earl (Eto Essandoh) and Ranger Dan (Dallas Roberts), as well as local townsfolk, including the seemingly eerie Reggie (Dylan Baker). As Kate takes her post high atop the Idaho Forest Service Watchtower, she starts to notice minor details about everyone and everything around her that make her question not only them but also her own mind. After meeting and befriending a hiker named Bertha, we enter a third act full of quick twists leading to a very poignant finale that leaves the audience satisfied yet wanting more answers.

Outpost succeeds in a way that other films that want to make a statement don’t, in this viewer’s eyes. Most horror films set out to make the “final girl” strong, but rarely do they ever delve into the trauma that made them strong in the first place. While I feel they could have delved a little more into the story of her past, I also feel that it is one of the unanswered questions that left me wanting more. Outpost succeeds by looking at the effects of that trauma after it is done, reminding us all that it never really goes away; we just find a way to deal with it no matter what. Lo Truglio and Dover work expertly together to show that real life is more horrifying than any movie monster could ever be.

Beth Dover’s performance as the abuse-surviving Kate is nothing short of incredible. If you’ve ever known anyone who has suffered great trauma or lives with PTSD, then you will quickly notice the little nuances and facial movements Dover has added to bring realism to the role. In some of the shots that linger on her early in the film, you can see a story told through longing glances – longing for normalcy, for a life free from her pain.

Kate is told early in the film, “Being all alone up here may be silent… it won’t be quiet,” a perfect line to explain to those who don’t struggle with PTSD or mental illness what it is like. While Kate seeks to regain her life, you often find yourself wondering if she’s still struggling more than we know or if it’s everyone else that is the problem.

While some may see Kate as an unreliable narrator à la ‘American Psycho’, I don’t feel that to be the case. Someone dealing with PTSD or similar conditions tends to question everyone around them, even those who seem friendly, as Kate does in Outpost. The film is riddled with characters that you don’t know if you can trust at any time. Dallas Roberts’ Dan and Eto Essandoh’s Earl are constant looming figures played to the perfect effect of whether they can be trusted or not. Becky Ann Baker as Bertha the Hiker adds a level of depth that only a veteran actor can bring. Every cast member brings a different level of uncertainty to the screen to the point where you yourself may be wondering, “Is this a movie, or is this real?”

And that is exactly what makes this film work – uncertainty. Lo Truglio, in his directorial debut no less, is very Hitchcockian in that you start and finish the film with an air of uncertainty – something the Master of Horror was the best at. At no time are you certain of anything or anyone, and I feel that keeps you guessing. I had thought I’d figured it out early on, but thankfully, this is not your normal victim recovery narrative we’ve seen ad nauseam.

Joe Lo Truglio also captures the vast wilderness of Idaho in such a way that it almost feels isolated and desolate, which only heightens your anxiety. While I appreciated and enjoyed the various symbolism and realism throughout, my only complaint is that I wanted more. There were many times I felt like the story could have been developed a little more, as far as an in-depth history of the characters, and sometimes the pacing was slightly off for my tastes. But for a first-time director, these are missteps that are easily forgiven by the fantastic performances and locations. If you’re like me, you’ll have questions you need answered… only time will tell if those answers will come, ironically, like moving past real-life trauma.

Those who fortunately have never endured or known anyone who has endured great trauma may be slightly underwhelmed by this movie, as they may not fully understand it or find it more predictable. In this case, that is my hope – that you don’t understand the struggles of PTSD or mental illness. However, as someone who lives with PTSD daily, I can tell you this film is one of the scariest I’ve seen in years. It is so real and visceral at times when Kate relives her trauma that it may trigger sense memories in those who have struggled, even someone who isn’t easily triggered like myself, so be forewarned. But if you can handle that, I highly recommend checking out Outpost.

I don’t know what Joe Lo Truglio has up his sleeve next, but I would not be at all upset if he made more genre films. Let’s hope he does… maybe even an epic horror comedy one day, from a man who has proven he understands both art forms.

You can see Outpost in theaters or on V.O.D. today!

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