Inside the press packthere’s a quote that proudly claims that Outcast is “The Most Original Horror Movie Since Let The Right One In!” While I’d dispute its claims at originality, at least it doesn’t claim that Outcast is in any shape or form good because, sadly, it isn’t.
A laboured and po-faced affair, Colm McCarthy’s debut feature is a far from impressive piece of work, which seems to have little or no grasp of what type of movie it aspires to be. Is it a Guillermo del Toro-style fusion of ancient folklore with the modern world? Is it a kitchen sink drama with a supernatural edge? Is it a classic ‘beast on the loose’ story? Is it a chase movie? The answer is that it’s all of the above, while also managing to be none of them, either convincingly or effectively.
The plot follows the mysterious Mary (Kate Dickie) and her teenage son, Fergal (Niall Bruton) as they move into a new flat on a run down Scottish council estate. On the run from the mysterious Cathal (James Nesbitt), both Mary and her pursuer are locked in a form of mystical/magical stalemate that ties back into this particular dysfunctional family’s own chequered history, a history which now threatens to catch up with both mother and son.
However, when a brutal series of murders (seemingly perpetuated by a mysterious ‘creature’) begin to plague the estate, remaining hidden suddenly no longer appears possible for these two outcasts.
The root of the film’s problems lay in the banal and unfocused screenplay that Tom McCarthy and his brother Colm have delivered. In another press release revelation, we’re informed that the first draft of Outcast was “full of holes”. If those problems were ever fixed is debatable, but the finished film is riddled with issues that hobble the film, and stop it gaining any momentum at every turn.
However, despite the myriad flaws, there are occasional glimmers of life and certainly the most successful strand of the film is its evocation of life on a Scottish council estate. There’s a real texture and tactility to these scenes, which evokes, at least visually, some of Ken Loach’s work and wouldn’t be out of place in some of Channel 4/Film 4’s output.
Unfortunately, that also brings up another of the film’s big issues, that it doesn’t feel cinematic, but rather much more like an episode of a television programme. Given Colm McCarthy’s background is as a director of British television shows such as Spooks and Murphy’s Law, maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise.
What this does mean is that McCarthy, unlike some first time directors, is used to working with decent actors and that is reflected in the strong performances he draws from Dickie, Bruton and Hanna Stanbridge as Fergal’s would-be girlfriend, Petronella. Dickie, in particular, is superb (just as she was in Andrea Arnold’s Red Road), and her turn as the earthy and unhinged Mary almost makes this a movie worth watching.
Less successful is the whole ‘hunter’ strand of the plot, which is both horribly expositional and contains a one-dimensional performance by James Nesbitt as the clearly ‘crazy’ Cathal. The fact that Nesbitt is saddled with some appalling dialogue and several ludicrous set pieces certainly doesn’t help matters, but nor does director McCarthy’s attempts to evoke Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining in Nesbitt’s climactic scenes. I’m not sure what the intention was here, but it merely serves to underline that, while James Nesbitt is certainly no Jack Nicholson, Colm McCarthy really isn’t Stanley Kubrick.
Aside from the uncertainty of tone, the film also suffers from a distinct lack of tension and pace. This is, in part, due to some rather flat direction, but the principle flaw lies, once again, with the script.
In every sense this is a film of no surprises, where every ‘revelation’ is so obviously and laboriously telegraphed that you’re almost willing the characters to open their eyes, catch up with the plot and get a move on before the pubs shut. This is particularly true during the midsection of the film, which seems to lose any sense of momentum and clearly could have done with a serious trim in the edit suite.
The final disappointment the film serves up is in the area of the ‘beast’. Sadly, yet again, Outcast stumbles when it needs to convince and the monster, a sort of unfortunate cross between an Uruk-hai, the Hulk and a werewolf, is another element that seems ill-conceived and misjudged in its execution. Which, in the final analysis, is probably the best summation of Outcast as a whole.
A British horror movie that’s as original as Let The Right One In would be something to cherish, but until it arrives, don’t bother with Outcast, sadly.
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