Those darned smart phone GPS apps. Always re-calculating, re-routing, leading you out to perilous barren wastelands and leaving you for dead. Take what happens in the new survival thriller “Outback”. Now I know that the Australian Outback isn’t a wasteland per se. It’s a vast and diverse group of ecosystems. At the same time, there are places in the Outback where you wouldn’t want to be stranded especially with no water, no food, and no sign of civilization.
Director and co-writer Mike Green’s “Outback” is set in the summer of 2015 and follows American high school sweethearts Wade (Taylor Wiese) and Lisa (Lauren Lofberg) as they travel to Australia for a two-week getaway. Their plans are to rent a car and travel up the coast visiting all the popular beaches along the way. Little did they know (at least according to the title cards) they would soon become “Outback legend”.
The two land in Sydney and things are a bit tense on arrival. We learn Wade has proposed to Lisa on the flight over and it doesn’t take a body language expect to see he didn’t get the answer he hoped for. That cloud hangs over much of the rest of the film as Wade sulkingly wrestles with rejection while Lisa struggles to express why she’s not quite ready to get married.
After a pretty nasty jellyfish encounter at their first beach stop the two scrap their original plans and decide to venture into the Australian Outback. Foreshadowing of what’s to come is everywhere. “You didn’t get a GPS?”, “Do you think it’s safe to be out here with no (phone) service?”, “Do we have enough gas?” They all point to the inevitable. Wade follows his not-Google maps app as it re-routes him off the highway and down long dirt roads that get smaller and more isolated the farther they drive. Soon they’re lost with no food, no water, and no sense of direction.
Things only get worse from there as Green puts his two characters face-to-face with the Outback’s many dangers – deadly snakes, scorpions, ants, hot days, and cold nights. He slowly ratchets down on the survival element squeezing everything he can out of his two stars. To their credit both Lofberg and Wiese are all-in. They’re a little spotty during the film’s early dramatics, but as the tension amps up the two really sell the growing anxiety and fear. And they’re at their best once the story takes some gruesome turns and their characters slowly begin to unravel.
Is this story true? Is it myth? I have no idea. You would like to think that no real people would make the number of dumb decisions it took to land Wade and Lisa in such a predicament. Driving deep into the Outback with only half a bottle of water. Refusing to turn around and go back to the highway when it’s crystal clear your app is as lost as you are. Yet despite those things, “Outback” shows itself to be effective where it counts – in immersing us in the terrifying vastness and the isolation of Australia’s bush and in keeping us glued to a young couple’s grim quest for survival.
VERDICT – 3 STARS