Written and directed by Adrian Roman, a gifted PhD in Psychology ventures out to help a traumatised veteran where she discovers a war on child trafficking and an unexpected romance. Starring: Gaia Passaler, Brandon Scott Hughes, Julie Howell, Scott James and Treg Monty.
Oak on the Outside begins with an interesting concept, it employs a mix of drama, thriller and a touch of the supernatural. Rebecca’s (Gaia Passaler) desire to use her unique talent for psychology to help those with PTSD is a nice angle to lead into the romance. Then finding not one but two people in need of her help adds an extra layer of emotion, and while it does get a certain level of exploration, it doesn’t reach its full potential. There’s a threatening air which is never capitalised upon, leaving the story falling short of its aim, making it struggle to grasp the harsh consequences lingering in the background. The larger story falls prey to the romance and is pushed aside for the more stereotypical shortcut to love. It’s a shame to see as it needed that focus to make it feel more tangible or individual.
Unfortunately the direction similarly falls into that trap of cliché. There’s a slow pacing to it and the choices of shots can feel clumsy at times, never quite able to work the negative space. Also, for a film taking place on a ranch, it doesn’t make the most of feeding that natural setting into the atmosphere of the film. It uses a great deal of exposition, filling gaps which could have reasonably been used to expand the story further. The cinematography feels fairly flat, while it does hold a typically romantic feel, the palette lacks an injection of colour, or something to add a vibrancy and bigger personality to the aesthetic.
The performance which unexpectedly stands out here is young actress Julie Howell’s debut. Her involvement in the story adds a surprising amount of emotion, and she delivers it with a resolute sternness, portraying that refusal to let trauma pick you apart. Gaia Passaler and Brandon Scott Hughes on the other hand, take the lead with mixed success. Their chemistry does feel convincing but also rushed, and the delivery of the dialogue can be somewhat stiff. There’s a back and forth between trying to build more individual characters and falling into cliches, and ultimately it feels as though the latter is winning. Although Scott James’ Colonel does work to balance that out with an air of genuine protectiveness which gives a dose of sincerity.
Oak on the Outside is a film for avid romance fans but might not work for everyone. The story has some good ideas but doesn’t see them through, they open up a grittier reality that the direction can’t bring to life. It loses its more individual qualities as time goes on, becoming a fairly typical romance. Sadly that’s only exacerbated by the direction which is missing out on personality and feels fairly heavy-handed. The cast give solid performances, particularly Julie Howell and Scott James, but its unusual potential unfortunately gets forgotten among a stereotypically fast falling in love.