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‘Outpost’: A Review and Discussion with Writer/Director Joe Lo Truglio

Outpost is a truly unique horror film.

Much like Get Out, Outpost will most likely trigger discussion over its intense subject matter long after you’ve left the theater. Outpost deals with the internal decay of post-traumatic stress brought on by domestic assault and the stain it can leave behind. If that doesn’t sound like your usual horror fare, it isn’t. It’s something that goes much deeper. We explore the mindset of the victim while watching her attempt to take control over her life again by making a fairly significant life decision.

Kate, played by the marvelously versatile Beth Dover (Orange is the New Black), decides to face her fears by running as far away from them as possible. This takes Kate, still haunted by her assault both physically and mentally, all the way to a fire tower seemingly in the middle of nowhere Idaho. Kate is reluctantly accepted into the position of a volunteer fire watcher far away from anyone or anything that can hurt her. Her days consist of watching the hills for smoke, fixing a temperamental heater, and embracing the solitude that comes with making the most of the mundane.

However, Kate isn’t exactly alone. While her duties are solitary, she can’t seem to escape the haunting visions of her previous trauma. Normal situations such as picking up supplies at the country store, taking out the trash, or even braving the narrow outhouse, suddenly turn into terrifying visions of violence and abuse. How can someone fix themself when their mind keeps breaking everything around them?

Outpost star Beth Dover and her husband, writer/director Joe Lo Truglio

To answer that question, I spoke with the writer and director of Outpost, Joe Lo Truglio, to get his take on his thought-provoking horror story.

Joe Lo Truglio is an actor mostly known for his comedic turns on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Reno 911!, and films like Superbad, Role Models, and Pitch Perfect 2 to name just a few. Writing and directing a psychological horror film about the toxic effects of PTSD isn’t exactly what most fans had on their COVID Bingo cards for him. Friends of Lo Truglio however, have known for years he’s an avid horror fan. His love for the genre goes all the way back to his early teens making his own horror films for fun.

I spoke with Joe over Zoom where we covered everything from his love of horror to this exciting next step as a director in the genre.

FOG!: This is an obvious departure from what people know your work as an actor from, but for those who know you well this isn’t a departure at all, is it?

Joe Lo Truglio: My first love of movies and fiction began with the horror genre… that began with Jaws, and went into Fangoria magazine, and the works of Stephen King including those films…it began with horror for me and comedy was always something I enjoyed at the same time. In the world of comedy, I read Mad magazine, I was listening to Richard Pryor and George Carlin records, and watching comedy specials on HBO…but the horror was really dominant, it really ran my life.

The best horror films have always rested on iconic performances by great actors. Oliver Reed in The Brood, Jamie Lee Curtis’ enduring legacy in the Halloween series, the entire cast of Carpenter’s The Thing, how important was casting an actress like Beth Dover in the title role knowing she has to play so many different levels of trauma?

I love that you mentioned The Brood which remains on the top of my list as my favorite horror movie of all time. With Beth, it was extremely important. I knew that Beth would be able to handle this role, I did write the role with her in mind…it’s everything. The movie doesn’t really work without strong actors all around especially in the role of Kate…I wanted the character to be a very realistic portrayal and that meant the actor needed to be a very good dramatic actor that could ground her performance into something that’s real and not just BIG, and I knew Beth would be able to do that.

Speaking of strong actors, you were lucky enough to get some top-level talent like Dylan Baker, Dallas Roberts, and Becky Ann Baker in key roles, what was it like working with them and how great was it to get Ato Essandoh hot off his zillion views from his work on Netflix’s The Diplomat?

With Ato it was perfect timing, I hadn’t met him but he had worked with a buddy of mine Bobby Cannavale on a show called Vinyl and I loved him in it. I gave Bobby a call and asked him, “What’s he like? What’s he like on set?” because ultimately what you want on set is someone who is conducive to collaboration and creativity… Bobby couldn’t have said more great things about him. He’s phenomenal and remains a good friend. Dylan and Becky and Dallas I’ve known for fifteen years, maybe longer. That was all part of the plan to have friends be in the movie. I’m very lucky because I’ve been in the business for a long time and I know a lot of amazing actors that also happen to be good friends.

A bloodied Dylan Baker and Joe Lo Truglio on set.

Dylan and Becky who are married, are both giant proponents of independent movie making and first-time filmmakers. They are incredible. Dallas and I lived together for a time. I was super, super, lucky to have that talent under those conditions, making a movie on a mountain…under those conditions you need to know you can trust the people you’re working with.

Another key part of the cast is the location itself, tell us a little about what it was like to shoot on a real mountain in a real outpost?

I wanted it to be very authentic. When we were there, we had a lot of cooperation with the Idaho Department of Lands. It was an active fire tower where we shot in Priest Lake Idaho. There are two firefighters who play hikers in the movie who were phenomenal in helping the authenticity of Kate’s fire call scene… In terms of just shooting up there, it’s 6,300 feet, it took us an hour to drive up and an hour to drive down every day. It was really challenging but that’s why we did it…we weren’t going to do it unless we shot it in an actual tower. It’s about a person who starts to lose their mind in isolation…I wanted people to feel we were up there, I wanted people to be like, “Holy shit did they actually shoot that up there? There’s no green screen here!”

I’d like to ask about some of your horror influences. The seeds of Roman Polanski’s Repulsion are sprinkled throughout Outpost, both visually and within Kate’s journey, how much influence did classic horror play in the story you were telling?

Specifically, Repulsion and The Shining were guideposts for this movie. I’m glad you caught that reference. Less directly Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers a super paranoia vibe was an influence. …Amityville Horror just the fact of having a structure feel alive and have a presence in the movie. There’s a couple of films that embrace daytime horror. There was a lot of influence from classic movies.

Rancid decay is a theme throughout the film, did Kate’s soul begin to decompose starting with her attack leading us into her transformation?

Kate’s mental ability starts to decay and her perception of reality starts to decay. Decay and desperation and rot are all themes in the movie for sure. We used it not only to show a passage of time (*the decomposition of a dead coyote from flesh to bone occurs over a period of months) but for those symbolic reasons as well.

My next question might veer into a spoiler which I don’t want to do as the third act of this film will be widely discussed…

Just going into this I knew that question was going to be asked. The first thing I had to do is acknowledge I am not a woman, and coming from a fifty-year-old white cis male perspective on the subject matter… I had to approach this as Kate is a person who couldn’t ask for help…that is something I can relate to on a personal level. That was my personal connection to this character.

However, it was important for me, as an author, as a writer, to have other characters say, “Hey, you need to get help and isolating yourself isn’t the way to do that.” It’s very hard to overcome this kind of trauma on your own without professional help. That’s not to say if you endure abuse, neglect, as a child or as a teenager… you will make the choices that Kate made…I’m glad this dialogue is here because I didn’t set out to make any sort of message movie, but at the same time there is subject matter in this that can’t be ignored and shouldn’t be ignored. …Mental health awareness, PTSD, domestic violence, I welcome this into the conversation and they’re issues that should be talked about…for me it started as “how do I make a scary movie?”

For me it started with PTSD a condition that affects millions of Americans every year, a condition that is a nightmare. …It’s not that you’re living that moment 24/7 but at any point in the day that moment may come back and you may feel like you’re right back there…I did use this to find a jumping off point to find the terror in the movie and I wanted to be careful not to exploit it.

*The credits in Outpost include a hotline for survivors of abuse and domestic violence.

Obvious comparisons will be made between you and Jordan Peele, another comedian turned horror director.

I know Jordan…we were both in a movie together called Wanderlust that came out about ten years ago…he and I had many conversations about horror movies on that shoot and it was not a surprise to me when he just soared to the top, deservedly so. He was a fan just like I was… and I remember having those great conversations with him.

I saw how the “special thanks” credits cited many friends and actors you’ve worked with, including many from Brooklyn Nine-Nine, how supportive were your friends in this next step in your career?

Very. Crucial. It was a big leap, a scary leap…My friends were able to really make sure I knew that there was a movie there. They were like, “Just know there is amazing shit in there, there’s a movie there, you have a movie!” They steered me in the right direction.

What’s next for you?

I would like to get another script produced! On the acting front, Muppet’s Mayhem is out now.

You’re working with the Muppets? Drop the mic!

It’s a bucket list, I was eight years old again, it was incredible!

In addition to being a fine actor, Joe Lo Truglio is a welcome new voice to the genre with a clear vision for his craft. He shows both love for the history of horror while simultaneously staking his claim as something hauntingly fresh. Lo Truglio’s Outpost is a terrifyingly real descent into madness that will keep you talking long after the movie is over. Go check it out.

Outpost is now playing in theaters and available on VOD today.

Fred Shahadi is an award-winning filmmaker, playwright, and TV writer living in Los Angeles.
He is the author of the sci-fi JFK conspiracy novel
Shoot the Moon.

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