Outer Range Adds Eerie Supernatural Twist to Modern Ranch Drama

Outer Range. Available now on Amazon Prime.

Taken by Yellowstone and crossed it maybe with It’s time to turn the screwPerhaps you come up with something as spooky and modern as Amazon’s Western. Outer Range. (Or Beth Dutton might just kill you. Tell me. You are always strange, occasionally annoying but often very fascinating. Outer Range has Yellowstone‘s same sense of a cowboy family unaware that itIt has lived out its time—but in this case, the encroachment is not being done by modernity, but something antediluvian that’s returned for a possession it left behind.

Outer Range stars Josh Brolin as Royal Abbott, the head of an old Wyoming ranching family that suddenly finds itself beset with problems. One of his sons’ wives has gone missing without any trace. She left behind her daughter. It is as distressing as the boy’s disappearance. The girl appears to have lost all interest in it. Disturbingly, cattle are vanishing, one or two at a time; and buffalo are appearing out of nowhere—sometimes, disconcertingly, with American Indian arrows and lances lodged in their bodies. Abbott, a space-cadet hippie, has asked to camp at the ranch for no apparent reason. This is even more confusing to his family.

Most concerning is the fact that a bullying ranch family has filed a claim to several hundred acres of land that Abbott and his wife have owned for over 150 years. Abbott’s lawyer describes it as “a good old-fashioned, topical fuck job”. The Tillersons rivals have taken advantage of a 19th century drafting mistake that occurred when Wyoming changed its county lines. But the Abbott attorney said fighting them would be futile and costly: “The Tillersons do not lose.”

Most menacing of all, while chasing a runaway steer on a remote range of his ranch—the very part of the land that the Tillersons are trying to make off with—Abbott discovers a perfectly circular and, from all appearances, bottomless, pit. What the pit is, where it came from and what—if anything—it’s doing are not apparent, but it’s instantly recognizable as a useful thing in which to toss blood-spattered clothing and lifeless corpses.

Abbott’s stoicism and perseverance is hampered by his family problems, particularly that pit. Usually indifferent or even hostile to religion—when his family goes to Sunday church services, he sits in the back pews reading a newspaper—Abbott one night insists on a prayer at the supper table which turns into more of a third degree. Abbott asks God to give him a hint about his plans. “Because I don’t know the first thing fucking clue,” he says.

Abbott’s interest in religion can not mask his growing nihilism. He discovers Autumn (the hippie poet girl) in the midst of his search for religion. It’s true!She has set up her tent in the shadow of the pit. He tells her not to worry and she screams at him. He tells her, “The universe plays out as it should, so there’s no reason to be concerned,” she says blithely. But, she has no answers for the bleak question of “What if things turn bad?”

As in that conversation, so is the tone Outer Range is mostly grim. However, it changes dramatically into absurdist humor after Abbott meets Wayne Tillerson, his land-grabbing neighbor (Will Patton). Yellowstone). The aging Tillerson has started to go around the bend—he’s introduced in a scene in which he’s chatting amiably with a mounted buffalo head—but his off-the-rails conversation sometimes seems to mask something squirrely in the reality of the remote Wyoming range country in which they live.

When Abbot asks why he won’t agree to make a deal over the land, Tillerson responds with a detailed description of the post-modernist erotic art collection he used to have (“the walls were covered in smut that would make your toes curl”) but abandoned because it never satisfied him. What I saw was the thing that got my heart beating. couldn’t see, what I didn’t know about, what was hidden from me,” Tillerson notes. “What kept me looking—I was born to hunt.” This explanation is both chilling and cryptic.

As Yellowstone. Outer Range is built around the relationships in a family built around a stolid American male of an earlier generation, no fascist but also no believer in healing crystals. (Brolin literally channels YellowstoneKevin Costner is Kevin in his performance. I am not implying that as criticism. It’s a disturbing question. Outer Range is what happens when that stolidity is subverted.

This is as engaging and captivating as you can get! Outer Range is, it would be even more so if creator-producer Brian Watkins didn’t have such a thirst for incoherence. Some of his scripts seem too long for their own good. His penchant to define film noir literally, bathing every scene in darkness as though Wyoming had banned light bulbs stronger than 25 W, is extremely irritating. He may fix his camera in that spot a few times, but it’s impossible to know what it might be unless you have the Braille version.