Much like with Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, JT Mollner’s Outlaws and Angels isn’t so much a home invasion movie as it is a home invaded movie. After a gruesome bank robbery and a deadly flight from the law, Henry (Chad Michael Murray) and his gang of bandits waste no time storming the isolated homestead of the Tildon family. There they prey on the family of four: Henry (Ben Browder), a failed preacher; his wife Ada (Teri Polo), a Bible-thumping zealot prone to fits of “the Spirit”; and their two daughters Charlotte (Madisen Beaty) and Florence (Francesca Eastwood). As the bandits eat their food, leer at their daughters, and plot their next move, the tenuous stitches holding the family together split apart. Florence soon falls for Henry, joining the gang and exacting terrible vengeance against her cruel family. At least at first.
Comparisons between Outlaws and Angels and Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight (2015) are inevitable. Both feature an eclectic cast of characters trapped in a tiny building for the majority of the run-time. Past sins are dredged up, alignments shift, and spasms of ultra-realistic violence flare up without warning. Though the gore never quite reaches the slather-Jennifer-Jason-Leigh-with-literal-buckets-of-blood-and-guts level of The Hateful Eight, the violence here is a labor of love. People don’t just get shot; they get the sides of their faces blown off, their necks exploded, their testicles blasted. The characters aren’t human beings so much as sentient bladders of tomato soup. Unfortunately Mollner isn’t able to handle intimate, quiet scenes as well as he does action set pieces or special effects shots. Many times I couldn’t hear or understand what the characters were saying to each other—their line deliveries were dominated inaudible growling or choked whispers. For a film which depends so greatly on the romantic, seductive relationship between Florence and Henry, these scenes are inexcusable. There’s also a bizarre voice-over narration from a painfully miscast Luke Wilson who plays the leader of the posse hunting Henry’s gang. Once or twice every half hour he’ll chime in with enigmatic ruminations on the origins of violence. They are as brief as they are entirely unnecessary and out-of-place.
The film’s highlight and biggest selling point is Eastwood’s performance as Florence. The daughter of legendary actor/director Clint Eastwood, she commands a greater screen presence than her brother Scott did in Lawrence Roeck’s Diablo (2015), a well-intentioned but ultimately misconceived stab at the Western genre. Her eyes contain the same fire, the same penetrative intensity that made her father such an icon. While everybody else in the film felt like an archetype, she came across as an actual human being. In a film cluttered with missteps, she shines.