Hunt (Julian Wadham) is in an undisclosed war torn Eastern Europe country looking for a band of no nonsense mercenaries to help him find something. The motley group of ex servicemen he recruits are lead by former Royal Marine D.C. (Ray Stevenson) and the something he needs to find requires them to travel deep into the combat zone and infiltrate an old army bunker. The premise is simple as is the set-up; a group of mercs cut off, an old spooky dark Nazi bunker and monsters from the grave picking them off one by one. I'd kind of guessed all this, I kind of knew what was going to happen and it even all played out pretty much how I'd expected, but I hadn't prepared myself at all for just quite how dark, suspenseful and most importantly believable it would all be. Let me qualify a little. I'm not saying I genuinely believe reality-phased seventy year old dead Nazi soldiers could occupy some forgotten part of Europe, just that the manner in which director Steve Barker has gone about presenting the mission, the combat, the soldiers and their reaction to what is in effect quite the leap of faith is gritty, coherent and real.
At the bunker believing the site secure the soldiers begin their search, discovering remnants of its previous Nazi occupation, sinister signs of unethical experimentation and the rather macabre discovery of pile of corpses they believe is the result of a local ethnic cleanse. The first sign the group may be a little bit in over the head comes when they discover one of the bodies is still alive, albeit mute, shocked and uncooperative, Götz (Johnny Meres) and the second is when the perimeter is shot at by an unseen assailant.
The tension for the first half of the film as the group settle in and the scene is set, is borderline unbearable and Barker is a master at providing constant subtle suggestions and reminders that things are not quite as they seem. If anything when the gruesome, inhuman zombies dressed in full Nazi regalia did arrive it was almost a relief; they were here and I could stop worrying about what they would do when they did, as they were now doing it; if any of that makes sense.
The something Hunt has been sent to secure by his unknown powerful backers is a unified field generator which the SS were experimenting with to create super soldiers. The idea was to unite both electromagnetic and gravity fields into a single unified one and expose soldiers to it so they would effectively be outside space-time, invulnerable and immortal. It's the Philadelphia experiment, except with people, not boats, vibration or light. Dead Nazis phasing into reality hell bent on sadistically dispatching anyone nearby to then suddenly pop out again is all a bit far fetched, but it's an incredibly effective horror mechanism. It's taking what is already a nightmarish concept; a reanimated corpse intent on killing and giving it yet another even more terrible trait. At least with a zombie you can shut the door, with these guys, you're never safe and really it's all a bit of a paradigm shift. Merely playing with idea that space-time, reality and life-death could be mutable and transient is scary, allowing monsters the ability abuse this knowledge is terrifying. Operating outside space-time these impermanent undead are also impervious to bullets and this includes shots to the head, as if everything we've already spoken about isn't already enough. Derrida spoke about zombies being disturbing because they blur the distinction between the living and the dead and a failure to bring order to the life-death binary opposition. The head-shot, the zombies Achilles heel still allowed the opposition to ultimately be satisfied; not only removing that but deliberately pushing the contradiction and inability to resolve this dichotomy, while introducing a whole host of new ones, is what ultimately makes Outpost such an unnerving and uncomfortable experience.
Metaphysical shenanigans aside, Outpost is still very much about the horror and pacing is key. Once the slow inhuman shufflers make their appearance the action, scares and blood become relentless. Soldiers die, heads are scratched, secrets are uncovered and desperation drives the dwindling characters to try and do anything to stay alive. Full of ever increasing intensity and brutality the character choice, broken 40-somethings' over younger muscle bound jar-heads shines as the disparate group comprehend and deal with the unremitting reality that they're probably all going to die. The characters are brilliantly realised with depth intelligently gleamed from dialogue, behaviour, accent or costume with Barker never taking the easy option with extended exposition that would spoil the pace and atmosphere. It's a very well put together film and quite the cinematic tour-de-force with an eerie subtle sound track that enhances the constant feeling of disquiet and dread.
A gritty, genuinely scary and relentless dark horror ride with great character acting, high octane military fire fights and some quite gruesome sadistic murders it's a powerful first rate claustrophobic horror. The narrative isn't without its faults and I did find aspects of the climax and the events leading up to it a little incongruous; mainly why a full frontal assault when they could just 'pop' where they liked and why such sadistic playing with the perceived enemy, but I can understand the decisions from a cinematic perspective and I didn't mind going along with it just to enjoy the ride. Easily the best zombie Nazi horror I've seen, which is really quite the odd thing to say; recommended, 7/10.