Director: Jose Pozo
Andorra is a tiny principality nestled between Spain and France, with a population of less than 80,000. Luckily for me, the first ever Andorran feature film was released last year. Outlier, or Nick to use its original release title, is a snowbound crime thriller in the vein of the Coen Brothers’ Fargo, or more recently, Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River. Like those films, Outlier follows a female police officer who finds herself entangled in a violent mystery, set against a starkly beautiful winter landscape.
Margaret’s job is uneventful and tranquil – following up on trivialities like newspaper thefts and missing pets. But when she receives a call from social services telling her that she is now the legal guardian of her fifteen year-old stepbrother Nick, her comfortable life becomes significantly more complicated.
Nick is sullen and withdrawn, and Margaret resents having to become a parental figure so unexpectedly, so the relationship between the two characters is severely strained. When Nick claims that he has witnessed a man murdering a couple in the woods outside town – an unheard-of crime for the sleepy little country – Margaret is perhaps understandably doubtful and unwilling to investigate. No bodies have been found, no tourists reported missing, and the snow has erased any evidence there might have been, so Nick begins his own investigation into the town and the murder which he insists took place.
Unfortunately, the film falls short of its intriguing premise in a few areas. The story moves along at a steady pace, but lacks originality. The murder mystery plot dabbles with a few ideas that might have allowed it to transcend the case-of-the-week, television-style whodunnit, but lacks the boldness to fully commit to any of them. Various subplots involving the quirky and eccentric townsfolk are somewhat interesting, but don’t have the wit or big-picture relevance of similar subplots in a film like The Dressmaker – my entry for Australia. And the central relationship between Margaret and Nick is disappointingly predictable. As they bond and learn to respect each other over the course of the film, there’s a sense that they’re just checking off boxes on a script, rather than evolving as characters.
That’s not to say that Outlier is without merit, however. Despite what must have been a low budget, the film never looks or feels cheap for a second. The cinematography and soundtrack are especially impressive – with a wide aspect ratio to properly take in the scenic mountains, a strikingly wintry colour palette, and an orchestral score which adds plenty of gravitas to each scene. As a showcase for Andorra and the potential for further film-making in the country, therefore, Outlier is a resounding success.