DVD Review: Outpost II: Black Sun
Review by Ben Bussey
Man, it seems a long time since Outpost came out. With the killer concept of hard-as-nails 21st century soldiers taking on undead Nazi stormtroopers, it was a film that seemed destined for cult status; however, for this writer at least it fell some way short of meeting its full potential. Now, over four years later, the long-promised sequel has arrived, and like most sequels it broadens the scope of the series, with returning director and writer team Steve Barker and Rae Brunton taking things onto a wider playing field than its claustrophobic predecessor. The result is a film that isn’t so bleak and testosterone-fuelled as the original, which to my mind winds up as a slightly more rewarding experience.
Our main protagonist here is Lena (Catherine Steadman – hence the film’s comparative lack of testosterone). Whilst at first glance she might seem like a cut-price Maggie Gyllenhall, she actually boasts the rare and rather kick-ass title of Nazi hunter, following in the footsteps of her late father to track down the last remaining geriatric goose-steppers who all but destroyed her family. Her efforts lead her into the same neck of the woods which that ragtag bunch of mercenaries found themselves in last time around. Running into an old colleague, physicist Wallace (Richard Coyle), Lena learns that the war crimes of the man she is looking for go far beyond the concentration camps. Soon enough Lena and Wallace are caught in the middle of a British Special Forces operation to locate and disable the machine within the outpost which makes the undead Nazis invulnerable, and between the two of them they just might have what it takes to help make the mission a success.
It’s not what I’d call a rip-roaring success – if, like me, you didn’t care much for the original then you’re still not likely to care all that much about what happens here – but even so, Outpost II makes for a reasonably entertaining 90-odd minutes. Key to its success is the slight shift in tone. It doesn’t exactly veer off in a radical new direction, but it does de-emphasise the horror somewhat in favour of a pulpy adventure/thriller tone: with its brainy protagonists following clues and exploring mysterious places with a hint of mystical goings-on, there’s more than a spoonful of Indiana Jones in the mix (indeed, one moment toward the end is a very blatant homage to one of the most notorious scenes in Raiders of the Lost Ark). Or, perhaps Tomb Raider might be a better frame of reference, given that our main protagonist is a modern woman charging into the shadowy realms of history. Alas, rather than adopting the Lara Croft approach, Catherine Steadman’s Lena winds up yet another disappointingly ineffectual female lead. An opening confrontation with an aged SS officer (whose casting offers another tip of the hat to Indy) is clearly meant to establish her as tough and ruthless, which you would assume a person to be if they travelled the world hunting Nazis; yet when the shit hits the fan she’s every bit as feeble as women tend to be portrayed in genre fare, largely unable to look after herself and dependent on the soldier boys to protect her. Also, given that both Steadman and Richard Coyle are in fact British, it’s a little grating that both are cast as American characters, even though their accents are fine.
Still, any complaints about the two pseudo-American leads fade rapidly when we turn our attention to the rest of the ensemble. The soldier boys are a real cut-and-paste job that could have been lifted from any number of military-related horror films, including but not limited to the original Outpost. We’ve got the ruthless one, the quietly compassionate one, the unnecessarily belligerent one, and the one who never stops with the dry wisecracks. As they’re so formulaic and unlikeable a bunch, it’s rather difficult to get too invested in their fates, and as such we don’t really feel the stakes when they face certain (and, in most cases, actual) death. Thankfully though, Barker and Brunton do not repeat the mistake of the first film by not even giving the good guys a fighting chance, and the question remains whether or not they will get out of there alive.
Alas, that’s not the only question that will remain at the end of the final reel, as the closing scenes leave things wide open for a third Outpost film, which I understand is currently in development. And if they carry on the course this ending suggests, I should imagine all hints of the first film’s Predator/Aliens influences will be all but expunged in favour of Resident Evil on a comparatively low budget. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. No, Outpost II isn’t anything special, and nor to my mind was its predecessor, but it still makes for a perfectly passable evening’s diversion. I’m sure we can expect more of the same should the series continue, and I can think of plenty worse things than that.
Outpost II: Black Sun has its UK premiere at FrightFest on 25th August, and is available on Region 2 DVD and Blu-Ray from 27th August, from Lionsgate.