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‘The Buildout’ review: Dir. Zeshaan Younus [Panic Fest 2024]

In 2023 The Outwaters dominated independent horror. The found-footage, psychedelic nightmare, proved that you don’t need a dark and dank forest setting to be scary and that the bright setting of the desert could be just as terrifying. It seems to have kickstarted a trend. First there was The Seeding, and now comes The Buildout. 

Starring Terrifier star, Jenna Kanell, and Doom Patrol’s Hannah Alline, The Buildout finds two friends on a pilgrimage into the desert. Dylan (Alline) is about to join a religious community that lives within the barren wasteland of the desert. Cameron (Kanell) is accompanying Dylan as it will be the last time they get to spend time together. Along the way they process their shared trauma, Dylan’s history with addiction, and the bittersweet future of separation that looms on the horizon.

Although not as overt in its horror elements as either The Outwaters or The Seeding, The Buildout does have a slow and steady burn. Prior to meeting Dylan and Cameron, there is an opening sequence set within the pair’s destination. Something is clearly not right there, but writer and director Zeshann Younus cuts away before any reveal. This first moment titillates the audience and promises that all is not well under The Buildout’s sandy surface. As the film progresses, Younus spends a lot of time developing the dynamic between Dylan and Cameron. It is their relationship that drives the film and the plot, and thankfully the pair are engaging characters that the viewer wants to get to know. 

The chemistry between Kanell and Alline is easy, breezy, and beautiful. Their interactions and relationship feels 100% organic. Furthermore, much of the dialogue between the two sounds genuine. The script is wonderfully naturalistic to the point that it appears as though both actors are improvising their lines, and that they really are Dylan and Cameron. An easy comparison for both their dynamic and chemistry would be the films featuring Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. The Buildout also follows the slow and steady formula of Benson and Moorhead’s movies The Endless and There’s Something in the Dirt, as it stands as another example of lo-fi genre cinema that connects on an emotional level. 

With the story kept light, The Buildout is a film that relies on mood and atmosphere to hook the audience. The visuals themselves are beautiful, The Buildout capturing both the beauty and the inherent danger of the desert landscape. Constant shots of sand might sound tedious, but Younus and cinematographer Justin Moore, find interesting ways to keep the imagery vibrant and exciting. The soundscape is kept muted, allowing nature and the rustling wind to transport the audience into the location with Cameron and Dylan. This immersion leads to extra investment in the plight of the characters and as The Buildout eventually unveils its final form, this closeness is rewarded with a devastating blow. A classic example of slow burn cinema done right, The Buildout feels like a spiritual cousin to the works of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. Fans of Benson and Moorhead should get Younus, and his debut feature, on their radars immediately.   

The Buildout

Kat Hughes

The Buildout


Whilst the lack of traditional horror elements will irk some, The Buildout offers a rich tapestry – both visually and narratively – that ensures maximum engagement. 


The Buildout was reviewed at Panic Fest 2024.

Kat Hughes is a UK born film critic and interviewer who has a passion for horror films. An editor for THN, Kat is also a Rotten Tomatoes Approved Critic. She has bylines with Ghouls Magazine, Arrow Video, Film Stories, Certified Forgotten and FILMHOUNDS and has had essays published in home entertainment releases by Vinegar Syndrome and Second Sight. When not writing about horror, Kat hosts micro podcast Movies with Mummy along with her five-year-old daughter.


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