Jessica Denton in Outlier (Photo: Random Media)

★★½ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Nate Strayer
STARS Jessica Denton, Thomas Cheslek

Outlier begins as a movie about domestic abuse before morphing into a movie about a Good Samaritan who comes to the rescue. After that, matters get extremely murky.

Written and directed by Nate Strayer and co-penned by Jona Doug, the film focuses on Olivia (Jessica Denton), who’s in a miserable relationship with her redneck boyfriend James (Logan Fleisher). He’s so abusive toward her that, when a stranger sees her being berated by James at a gas station, he intervenes. The stranger is Thomas (Thomas Cheslek), a gentle bear of a man who asks Jessica if she needs help. When she responds in the affirmative, he convinces her to leave James and come to his waterside cabin to recuperate and figure out her life.

That Olivia might so readily agree to take off with a complete stranger might cause some folks to shake their heads, but I imagine the reality is that many women are in such nightmarish relationships that even the unknown seems more inviting than remaining with a certified bully. And, initially, Olivia thinks she made the right decision, as Thomas provides her with food, a guest bedroom, and some friendly advice.

Yet it isn’t long before Olivia starts to feel unsettled in what she thought was a safe house. She has constant nightmares in which she’s being chased by her abusive ex, and she doesn’t understand why Thomas is always talking about her to someone through an earpiece. A passive and meek person who’s always apologizing for things that aren’t her fault, Olivia starts to wonder if she has the inner strength to confront Charles and, if necessary, break away from his control as she did James’.

Thomas Cheslek and Jessica Denton in Outlier (Photo: Random Media)

For a good while, Strayer keeps viewers on high alert, wondering whether Thomas is saint or sinner. Cheslek’s close-to-the-vest performance reveals no clues, which only heightens the mystery. Unfortunately, once all the cards are on the table, the film grows far less interesting, with a lack of clarity surrounding one of the characters as well as showdowns that don’t provide much dramatic juice.

There’s another wrinkle to the story that should elevate the film, and that’s the fact that Thomas is a computer programmer and his latest AI invention ties directly into the central plotline. But it actually proves to be a needless distraction, as the details remain too hazy and the resultant actions interrupt the film’s momentum.

For the most part, Outlier is a compelling movie about domestic abuse and its lingering effects, and it’s more effective without the accompanying gobbledygook.

(Outlier is available on Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play, and Xbox.)

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