With a giant, symmetrical hole appearing in Wyoming rangeland on Amazon Prime Video and Jordan Peele’s Nope coming to theaters this summer, alien creatures invading rangelands are apparently all the rage in for filmmakers these days.
Released on April 15, and streaming every subsequent Friday on Amazon Prime, the appropriately titled Outer Range stars Josh Brolin as Royal Abbott a vexed Wyoming rancher inundated with very human avarice and extraterrestrial weirdness all swirling around a yawning, enigmatic cavity, like a green, rangeland sclera surrounding a great eye. It’s an intriguing and ambitious idea, but like many new foals, Outer Range stumbled a bit out of the gate with an ungainly, top-heavy plot. There’s no suggestion that the dark narrative is finding its footing, but things continue to get eerier and more bewildering.
Like Severance, Devs, Mr. Robot, and other sinister sci-fi before it, Outer Range is a slow drip. Its opening episode echoes Yellowstone’s Western setting set in a tight-lipped yet meddlesome small-town atmosphere.
Brolin plays troubled protagonist, Royal Abbott, beset by numerous real and unreal issues. His son Perry (Tom Pelphrey) is struggling as a single father of a precocious daughter Amy (Olive Abercrombie), still wading through his wife’s unexplained disappearance nine months ago. Abbott’s other son Rhett (Lewis Pullman) is nearing a crossroads, the end of hard-drinking, hard-living rodeo life. And odd duck hippie Autumn (Imogen Poots), pops up out of nowhere to ask to camp on Abbott’s land and then sticks her nose fully in the besieged man’s business.
Wayne Tillerson (Will Patton), the owner of the neighboring ranch, seems to smell Abbott’s blood in the water. The father sends his typecast, surly sons Trever (Matt Lauria), Billy (Noah Reid), and Luke (Shaun Sipos) on an ATV mission to deliver news that Tillerson’s made a legal claim on 600 acres of Abbott land.
Abbott’s wife Cecilia (Lili Taylor) carries the family through these headwinds with the help of true faith, dragging the family to church every week. Taylor, as Brolin’s wife, offers a crisis of faith, and her opposing antagonist, Patricia Tillerson, played by Deirdre O’Connell, gets a brief stint as a vengeful matriarch.
Brolin holds up his end of the bargain, delivering a believable, stoic ranch man who deals with the issue the best way he can: through monosyllabic gruffness. Abbott’s focus is torn between the giant hole in his land, what to do about interloping Autumn, and the question of why the Tillersons are so set on taking ownership of what amounts to cursed land at this point.
The tone is odd, though, bucolic scenes lead to characters burst into song or into soliloquy (which makes sense seeing as much of the show’s written by playwright Brian Watkins) before leaping to creep with little or no transition. Early sequences that suggest a rural crime drama whiplash viewers into a fantastic, mythic horror.
The bizarre events in Outer Range feature a movie gloss that’s reflective of its prestige executives – Brolin and Brad Pitt’s Oscar-winning Plan B production company. There’s considerable intrigue from strange happenings and threatening circumstance from the outset, but there’s little thread that holds things together through its first few episodes. Instead, the narrative just gets weirder as Abbott finds a mysterious black gem (which always leads to good things) and a talking bear.
It’s easy to grow numb to the sheer number of odd events, a confusing cascade that’s hard to grasp with so little connection. The plan to hold any explanation back instead of showing its hand leaves Outer Range viewers discombobulated in a vast sea with little bearing. Like Lost before it, there’s a lot to like about Outer Range, but it might take multiple viewings to connect all the strange pieces.
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