Synopsis: On vacation at a remote lake house, a mother and her two young daughters must fight for survival after falling into a terrifying and bizarre nightmare conceived by a psychopath.
Stars: Yvonne Strahovski, Anna Pniowsky, Abigail Pniowsky, Ryan McDonald, Justin Bruening
Director: Dennis Iliadis
Running Length: 89 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: When we first signed up for Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Paramount+, etc., who would have thought that they’d know you better than you would know yourself? By now, my multiple streaming services “get” me, and the algorithm used to suggest movies based on my watch history is often right on target. At first, I tried to resist the seemingly random titles that would pop up, but after taking a chance on several, I ultimately gave myself over to the formula. Now, I will follow where the little internal programmer leads.
He’s Out There was one of those movies that existed in the days before I became a believer. It always lingered in the top five of my suggestions, and I tried for the longest time to get it out of the way so other films could take its place. This family in peril horror film felt like sloppy seconds (or turdy thirds) of material I had seen before and enjoyed less and less with each new iteration. Then, as the story goes, one dark and stormy night, I got a little desperate for something scary, and there He’s Out There was. Again. On another streaming service being suggested to me. So, I bit. And what a treat I had been missing out on!
First things first. He’s Out There is like many movies you’ve also seen pop up in your queue and skip over. It isn’t, however, one you should ignore for as long as I did because it shows up ready for business almost from the word go. Directed by Dennis Iliadis (who was also at the head of the table for the 2008 remake of The Last House on the Left) from a script by first-time screenwriter Mike Scannell, it may have the size and shape of a host of interchangeable dreck, but it packs on the frights with glee. Add in a killer hidden under a freaky mask and an array of creepy dolls, and you’ve got the assured promise of a good time.
Heading out of town for their annual summer trip to the cabin with their young daughters Kayla and Maddie, Laura (Yvonne Strahovski, The Tomorrow War) and Shawn (Justin Bruening) are looking forward to relaxing away from work. As they are about to leave, Shawn learns he has to stay behind for a few hours and address an issue at his job. He encourages Laura and the girls to go on ahead of him. Nothing seems amiss when they arrive, and as Laura sets up the cabin, Kayla and Maddie head off to the nearby woods to play. Someone is watching them, though, and he’s set a trap into which the young girls can’t help but walk.
As afternoon turns to night, Shawn still hasn’t arrived when one of the girls becomes ill. Discovering she may have ingested something purposely meant to harm her, Laura decides to leave and wait for Shawn in town. Venturing out into the night is exactly what the unseen maniac wants, and unbeknownst to Laura or her girls, the nightmare is just beginning for their family. A nightmare that won’t end even when the sun comes up.
Originally meant to be released in theaters, I’m not entirely surprised He’s Out There was ditched for a direct-to-streaming release. It’s made well enough to have received a theatrical run and, marketed correctly, could have done healthy business in its first few weeks. The studio producers balked and condemned it to a small platform, and it’s done a disservice to what is often a highly effective horror film. Iliadis had experience putting families in compromised situations and sending them through the wringer. Thankfully, He’s Out There isn’t as extreme as his previous film, but it retains the intensity.
Iliadis also scored with Strahovski as a compelling lead and a resourceful mother who is determined to fight until the end for her children. A performance like this went a long way in selling the material. Were it not for Strahovski’s high-caliber effort, the dynamic between mother and daughters wouldn’t have felt so immediate. As her daughters, real-life sisters Abigail & Anna Pniowsky, may veer toward the annoying at the outset but pivot well during the film’s more challenging sequences. Credit Ryan McDonald (Becky) for his hulking yet nimble work as the masked killer.
The movie that got me to trust my algorithm, I’m also glad I saw He’s Out There so I could finally clear it out of my suggested list. Now it’s my turn to pass it on to you as a strong selection for an October watch. Fire it up on a weekend night, and turn off all the lights when you do. It’s an efficient 90 minutes that will hit all the right buttons.