Guillermo del Toro opens Ana Lily Amirpour’s “The Outside” by talking about late-night TV and how the things that are featured during that hour blur the line between what we are and what we are told we should be. That sort of content compels us to think that perfection is merely a toll-free number away, and since the thought of it is so addictive, we can’t look away. Based on Emily Carroll’s short story, “The Outside” follows Stacey (Kate Micucci), who lives with her husband, Keith (Martin Starr), who is also a police officer. Stacey loves to eat chicken and watch TV. She is easily scared, and it seems every time something goes bump in her house, she calls up Keith and asks him to calm her down. Don’t mistake her timidness for weakness, though, because she can wield an ax (let’s call it Chekhov’s ax, for now) pretty confidently. But despite all that strength, her insecurity about her not-so-traditional looks is eating away at her.
Major Spoilers Ahead
What Happens To Stacey When She Uses Alo Glo?
Stacey’s workplace appears to be the major source of her insecurity because her female colleagues—Gina (Kylee Evans), Jill (Diana Bentley), Kathy (Shauna MacDonald), and Lisa (Julia Juhas)—are tall and “pretty” in the regressive Eurocentric way. She does notice that Gina is putting the lotion that she saw the previous night on the television and shows signs of being drawn to it. That means the idea that the lotion is the key to unlocking her true potential has been embedded in her head. That idea goes a step further when Stacey gets an invitation to Gina’s Secret Santa party. However, unlike everyone else who has brought pre-determined gifts, she arrives with a taxidermied duck. Since it goes against the norm, Gina very visibly turns down the gift that Stacey has made so lovingly while the rest mock her very audibly. To make matters worse for herself, when Stacey applies the Alo Glo (that Gina has gifted everyone), she develops a brutal rash that forces her to return home.
Amirpour establishes a bunch of things in the opening 20 minutes of “The Outside.” First of all, it’s a Christmas movie that doubles as a Halloween flick. Secondly, she paints such a vivid picture of Stacey, who is then brought to life by the ever-awesome Kate Micucci. Everything from her facial tics to her body language is so perfect that she doesn’t even need to say a word to let us know what Stacey is thinking. Thirdly, Amirpour shows the kind of man Keith is. He isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but he is warm, accepting, and supportive, like every man should be. And lastly, but most importantly, she shows the toxic mixture of internalized misogyny and the business of selling beauty products, which is personified by Alo Glo. Although the film seems to be set in the 80s – which is evident through the brilliant production design and costume design – it comments on the ever-expanding industry that revolves around women depending on beauty products. But does it offer a solution? Not exactly.
Why Does Stacey Pay No Heed To Keith’s Warnings?
While dealing with what can only be an allergic reaction, Stacey either dreams of talking to the Alo Glo man (Dan Stevens) and his assistant (Chloe Madison) or that the two can actually talk to people through their TV sets. Initially, Stacey does question the absurdity of the interaction. But as soon as they start calling out her insecurities and how she can apply Alo Glo to become a member of the group of women from her office, Stacey gives in. She brings up the fact that every inch of her skin that has come in contact with that cream is turning red. Alo Glo Man shuts her concerns down by telling her that the more it itches, the more healing it is doing. By that, Alo Glo Man (or Stacey’s insecurity) means to say that everything about Stacey is unhealthy, and the cream is going to fix her. So, she does exactly that, even though her condition continues to worsen, and Keith keeps telling her to stop.
The in-movie reason for Stacey’s inability to hear what Keith is saying is, well, the Alo Glo man. Keith states what Stacey doesn’t want to hear, while the Alo Glo man says exactly what she wants to hear. The way Stacey shuts down Keith’s suggestions shows how internalized misogyny can be weaponized. By calling Keith unsupportive, Stacey tries to portray him as a run-of-the-mill douchebag who doesn’t stand beside his wife. By saying that men can be ugly, and they cannot feel insecure about it, while women have to be perfect and pretty all the time. Stacey highlights that she, like many other women, is a victim of patriarchal norms and internalized misogyny. But since she can’t face that truth, she keeps suffering at her own hands. And I have to say that the hair and make-up department – which is aided by the cinematography, Amirpour’s expert handling of tone, and Micucci’s performance – does a splendid job of visualizing it. As someone who has spent the entirety of his childhood and adolescence suffering from various kinds of skin-related issues, “The Outside” had me itching throughout its one-hour-long runtime.
‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ Episode 4 ‘The Outside’ Ending Explained: What Does Stacey’s Fourth Wall Breaking Moment Mean?
In the third act of the film, Amirpour wildly deviates from its overall campy feel and goes into what I can only describe as the lighthouse mimicry scene in “Annihilation,” but in the basement of a suburban neighborhood. Yes, the Alo Glo cream from all the tubes in Stacey’s basement accumulates to form the shape of a woman. Kissing that entity prompts Stacey to kill her husband with the Chekhov’s ax and become one with the Lotion Woman (Lize Johnston). When Stacey emerges from her cream exterior, she notices that her rashes are gone, her eye doesn’t have a squint anymore, and her teeth are straight. She rushes to Keith to prove that she was right all this time and realizes that he is dead. So, she taxidermies him, cuts her hair, puts on some make-up and stuns everyone at her office. And as the women start to praise her for her looks, she levitates off the ground and then proceeds to break the fourth wall and stare into our souls.
If it’s not clear already, by looking at us through our screens, Stacey is judging all of us for promoting unreasonable beauty standards for women to follow. Those who exclude “traditionally unattractive” women for something they can’t control are at fault. Those who want women to look like models all the time are at fault. Those who give beauty products as gifts, as if to say that the one getting them is in dire need of them, are at fault. But in addition to all that, can we applaud the CGI, VFX, and SFX that have gone into making the Lotion Woman, as well as Micucci’s commitment to covering herself in that gooey, sticky material? Because it makes for one of the most bizarre and puke-inducing scenes in a horror movie. I can’t even begin to imagine the logistics of how the set was prepared before every retake. I can see where the practical effects end, and the VFX start to make things less difficult for the set design department. However, if I can be honest, the transition is invisible and doesn’t hamper the guttural response that the scene evokes.
With all that said, it’s difficult for a cis-het man like me to come out and say that women should stop using beauty products after watching “The Outside.” It is ultimately a personal choice and, at the end of the day, to each their own. What I will say, though, since I’ve mentioned it before, is that the choice should be yours. Yes, our thoughts and dreams are made of what society and the media push us to believe. But education gives us self-awareness. And with great self-awareness comes great decision-making abilities. So, instead of making a hasty judgment call based on what your friend, your colleague, your lover, or even your parents said, sit down with yourself and think about the cards that are in front of you. If you are privileged enough to spend your money on a beauty product (most of which are expensive as hell), you have that kind of time on your hands to think about your options. Once you’ve chewed through every possibility at your disposal, please feel free to take the leap.