Stephen Whitty

Columnist, critic for national and international outlets. Author, lecturer, host.

Nov 17, 2021
1 min read

“I’m only doing this for your own good.”

Most of us first hear, and learn to distrust, those words as children. This is for my own good? Eating liver, sitting through Sunday school, going to this crummy sleepaway camp? No thanks.

The line can be infuriating coming from a parent.

It’s terrifying coming from a kidnapper.

But that’s the situation Olivia steps into in Outlier. She’s at a gas station being abused, as usual, by her loutish boyfriend, when suddenly a quiet stranger steps in, and steps up. Is she OK? Does she need help?

Yes, she stammers.

So the random nice guy pushes her boyfriend away, escorts Olivia to his truck, and drives away.

But where does she want to go? Olivia has no idea. Her rescuer – Thomas – offers to let her stay at his place out in the woods. She quickly agrees.

Just as the audience just as quickly shouts “What are you doing, girl?”

Yeah, going off with a stranger to his remote and solitary home is maybe not the best idea Olivia ever had. Except Thomas is a perfect gentleman. He doesn’t even try to kiss her.

Except when she tries to leave, he won’t let her.

“I’m doing this for your own good,” he tells her.

Uh-oh.

A decently creepy little barebones thriller – for most of the time we’re as claustrophobically trapped as Olivia, stuck inside that small house – Outlier still has a few problems.

For example, we’re told that Olivia is mousy and passive – that’s actually the point, the reason Thomas wants to “help” her – but star Jessica Denton overplays it. She’s been beaten down, of course, but there’s no sign of the person Olivia used to be, no spark of personality. It’s hard to truly invest in her as a character.

The plot could also use a few more complications. Women kidnapped by creepy guys aren’t exactly a new idea, and to its credit, Outlier does puts a spin on it by having its villain, well played by Thomas Cheslek, be so soft-spoken, so polite – and so in control.

But Olivia’s attempts to get away need to be a little more extensive, and inventive. Just slipping out and running through the woods – twice – isn’t quite enough. (Think, for example, of James Caan in Misery, or even Joan Crawford in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?) The harder the captive character’s efforts, the more we cheer them on.

In some ways, Outlier feels more like an idea for a movie, rather than a fully-fledged feature. Its plot is as stripped down as its budget, and the limitations of both are obvious at first. But once it begins to pick up speed, about halfway through, it turns into an economical little thriller.

Even if, unlike Olivia, it never can quite escape its constraints.

3.5 stars (out of 5)

Outlier