Producers: Eric B. Fleischman and Maurice Fadida   Director: Delmar Washington   Screenplay: Tucker Morgan   Cast: Skylan Brooks, Shane West, Hart Denton, Clark Backo, Rutina Wesley, Diamond White, Zack Stein, Michael Shamus Wiles, Bill Engvall and Taryn Manning   Distributor: Vertical Entertainment

Grade: C

Delmar Washington’s second directorial effort is a sci-fi thriller with a strong socially conscious element.  The screenplay by first-timer Tucker Morgan tries to meld the various elements into a coherent whole, but “Outsiders” winds up more muddled than mysterious.

Teen Jaylen (Skylan Brooks) has fled his abusive stepfather with his mother Ramila (Rutina Wesley) and sister Simone (Diamond White); they’ve taken refuge with the man’s sister Suzy (Taryn Manning) in the little Oregon town of Mount Arrow.  They appear to be the only blacks in residence, and are treated by most of the locals, a mostly racist bunch, with suspicion and distrust.

There are some exceptions to the rule, however, like Amira (Cark Backo), who’s dumped her bullying boyfriend Brock (Zack Stein) and taken up with Jaylen, and Trevor (Hart Denton), Jaylen’s co-worker at a convenience store. Unfortunately Sheriff O’Hare (Shane West) does not feel as they do about him, and so when Amira disappears during a late night lake swim with Jaylen, he’s highly skeptical of the boy’s explanation involving a sudden storm and a strange blue light.  Brock and his buddies are willing to use force to get the truth out of him, too; even Trevor gives in to the desire for revenge.

No wonder Jaylen feels it necessary to investigate Amira’s disappearance himself.  He discovers something we’ve been clued into at the very beginning of the film, via a cluttered bulletin board at the store where he and Trevor work: the area has seen scads of missing persons cases over the years, all remaining unsolved.  In one of those tedious montages of headlines streaming across the screen, Jaylen goes through microfilm copies of the local newspaper reporting the disappearances.  He also makes contact with Tim (Bill Engvall), a local crank who’s obsessed with proving they’re the result of alien abduction. 

And as if all that weren’t enough, Jaylen learns that Sheriff O’Hare is implicated in a cover-up because of the involvement of his cantankerous father (Michael Shamus Wiles).  When he breaks into their house in search of evidence, he finds that the old man is dangerous, despite his infirmity.  In the end Jaylen has to try to escape what seems an impossible situation.  Only a couple of surprising interventions offer him a chance of survival.

Brooks, who’s in virtually every frame of “Outsiders,” is the film’s strongest element, catching Jaylen’s fear at his predicament while conveying the character’s underlying anger over his treatment.  The remainder of the cast fare less well, with West attempting to evince seething menace but coming across as stiff and Manning curiously nondescript in vacillating between exasperation with Jaylen and support for him.  Comic Engvall gets by as the oddball conspiracy theorist.

Technical credits are adequate for this sort of low-budget effort, though Flora Ortega’s production design is undistinguished and Juan Sebastian Baron’s cinematography shrouds most everything in darkness.  The effects, mostly of roiling storm clouds and flashes of lightning, aren’t terribly impressive, Adam Tyree’s editing is okay at best and the score by Blitz//Berlin, whoever they might be, won’t stick in your mind, thankfully.

The attempt by Moran and Washington to add some depth to what’s basically genre fare is admirable, but the result is disappointingly flat.

For the record, the movie’s original title was “No Running.”