Studio: Vertical Entertainment
Director: Quinn Lasher
Writer: Mike Scannell
Producer: Adrienne Biddle
Stars: Yvonne Strahovski, Anna Pniowsky, Abigail Pniowsky, Ryan McDonald, Justin Bruening, Julian Bailey, Stephanie Costa
A mother must protect her two young daughters when a mysterious masked man stalks the family’s remote lake house.
Botched marketing miscues never boded well for “He’s Out There.” Poster art progression in particular hints at a possibly sordid story behind the simple thriller’s iffy production pedigree.
When the project was publicly announced in March 2016, “The Strangers” (review here) creator Bryan Bertino was said to be attached as a producer while Dennis Iliadis had been tapped to direct. As late as February 2018, well after the film presumably finished, Iliadis’ involvement remained loudly touted. Sales art promoting the movie for distributor courtship at EFM still proclaimed “From the Director of ‘The Last House on the Left’ (remake)” at any rate.
A few months later however, media outlets, information sources, and ultimately the final film inexplicably listed the director as “Quinn Lasher,” a man with no other IMDb credits, online presence, public picture, or known identity to speak of. Whether he or the production no longer desired his association, speculation connected the dots that a nom de plume had replaced Dennis Iliadis in the credits. By this time, Bryan Bertino’s name no longer appeared anywhere either.
More suspiciously, updated artwork added the pull-quote “spine chillingly good!” and attributed it to an outlet that hasn’t published a new review online since 2015. Even better, a four-star rating prominently placed next to the title hilariously listed “Quote Author” as its placeholder source.
No indeed. None of this boded well for “He’s Out There.”
So, what kind of quality can be expected from a movie whose director used a pseudonym and whose publicist employed imaginary praise to drum up an illusion of acclaim? Take a wild guess.
Boiled down to basics, “He’s Out There” doesn’t get more complex than “masked man stalks a mother and her two daughters at a remote woodland home.” Surprisingly given the recycled premise, several creative creeps nevertheless come into play.
For instance, while not deserving of its own NECA action figure replication, the maniac’s mask strikes an effective fear factor for its streamlined design. His murder motif also features several handmade mannequins, a bedtime storybook with terrifying personalized pages, and the cryptic use of red string leading to a macabre milieu around a tree stump tea party topped with poisoned cupcakes. At some time, somewhere, possibly when Mike Scannell’s script originally titled “Scarecrow” made it onto the 2014 Blood List, “He’s Out There” seemingly had some depth involving a vague “Alice in Wonderland” allusion with unsettling psychopath vibes.
None of that potential finds itself fulfilled in the film’s current cut though. “He’s Out There” slices off intriguing backstory buds like unwanted appendages, replacing them with tropes and cheats cribbed from the “Friday the 13th” franchise and every knockoff that followed.
Does the landline get cut, preventing a 911 call? You bet. Do cellphones receive reception? Possibly, although the heroine leaves hers in the car during a conspicuous close-up telling us it isn’t in her possession anyway. Characters nonsensically separated? Hiding in a closet? Hiding under a bed? Disabled car? Creepy doll? Eerily echoing children’s song? Not verifying if the killer really died? Red herring neighbor with a peculiarly perfect sense of timing? Check, check, and check.
Performances are passable. Yvonne Strahovski of “Dexter” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” never operates at a level less than absolute engagement in anything she does. Anna and Abigail Pniowsky do their jobs well as the young sisters too, crying, feigning fright, and exhibiting chemistry with believability.
On the other hand, characters become beleaguered by dumb behavior. Not only does one girl eat a cupcake with gross filling strangely sitting out in the forest, her sister keeps the other one as a gift for dad, yet bizarrely hides it from mom for an unspecific reason that only make sense in a screenplay.
Shortly after witnessing the masked man frighteningly capture their mother by force, “knick knack paddy whack” can be heard coming from outside. Even though the older sister didn’t believe mom’s fib that a dead body seen earlier wasn’t their father, the sound of “This Old Man” proves too irresistible and the girls reason, “maybe it’s dad, let’s go out in the dark where that madman is and investigate.”
Limited by too few people in one isolated location, “He’s Out There” quickly runs out of things for everyone to do. Three failed escape attempts result in the same outcome of simply retreating back to the house. That’s to say nothing of the additional treks outside to retrieve an item or check something only to end up back in the spot where that person started.
Even though it is often uninteresting and always unoriginal, I wouldn’t say “He’s Out There” is so irredeemable as to merit complete disownment. After all, Dennis Iliadis kept his name on Blumhouse’s “Delirium” (review here) and that’s a duller film with fewer redemptive qualities. Then again, maybe one more routine horror movie, particularly a generic cabin-in-the-woods slasher like this one, isn’t a bad thing to keep off a résumé in need of another title audiences can refer to appreciatively.
Review Score: 40