This Outcast review contains spoilers.
Outcast Episode 1
Forget everything you think you know about demonic possession and the time honored methods of casting out Satan from a victim who’s often in the wrong place at the wrong time, because the pilot episode of Robert Kirkman’s (The Walking Dead) new Cinemax series Outcast will spin your head around faster than Linda Blair in William Peter Blatty’s heretofore quintessential exorcism tale. Based on the Skybound/Image comic title by Kirkman and artist Paul Azaceta, the series takes us inside the town of Rome, West Virginia to watch its residents battle an evil that many have apparently come to accept as a routine part of life.
Make it past the opening five minute sequence of “A Darkness Surrounds Him,” and you’re golden. As we watch young Joshua Austin transfixed by a bug on his bedroom wall, the heightened audio and magnified view immediately place the viewer on alert that something is clearly amiss. Our worst fears are quickly confirmed as the boy crushes the bug with his forehead leaving his face bloodied and onlookers wondering whether the child suffers from mental illness or something far more sinister. It doesn’t take long to recognize that dark forces are afoot in the town of Rome, and we have to admire Reverend Anderson (Philip Glenister) who endeavors to cast out a demon seemingly controlling Joshua. We’ve seen this before, and though he makes a valiant effort, this is clearly beyond his scope.
Make no mistake, Outcast can be disturbing. Watching an innocent child manipulated and abused by a malevolent force is difficult, and even though our sensibilities toward demonic possession have been preset by any number of films, there’s something about Kirkman’s view that sets it apart. All pilots must furnish a certain amount of exposition, and it’s no different here. However, director Adam Wingard’s handling of the script deftly transports us from the present into the past where we learn that the evil we witness through Joshua has its origins many years prior. While contemporary directors often rely too heavily on flashbacks as a storytelling device, the ones we get here are not only terrifying but essential.
Though it’s alternately fascinating and disturbing to watch Reverend Anderson employ everything from holy water to a crucifix held at arm’s length, it’s not until Kyle Barnes (Patrick Fugit) enters the picture that the deeper narrative begins to unfold. Fugit is exceptional playing a deeply troubled man caught up in the town’s ongoing nightmare, but it’s his first hand knowledge of the evil that propels him into the fray. That he seeks redemption for something that at first glance appears to have been out of his control only adds to the mystery.
Once we’re introduced to Kyle’s mother through flashbacks, we begin to understand the childhood trauma that’s led him to become the recluse we meet early on. Kyle gives the impression that he blames himself for his mother’s demonic possession, but at this stage of his life, he simply wants answers. What he did to relieve his mother of her suffering remains unclear, and he continues to be wracked by guilt over his actions.
What the Outcast pilot does so well is to place us in this world, present enough backstory that we quickly feel at home, and posit enough questions to make us want to return to the darkness that is Kyle’s realm. Are we dealing with a demonic body jumper? Joshua seems to know details of Kyle’s tragic childhood that only the demon could know. We learn that Kyle’s mother was possessed, and later receive hints that the same fate befell his wife.
It’s likely too early in the narrative to label Kyle an anti-hero, but his willingness to put aside his own demons (pun intended) to help rescue Joshua makes us forget that this is the same man who moments earlier was content to live in squalor with no human contact. And he has demons aplenty. Why does he feel guilty about his mother’s present state? What happened in his own marriage, and what DID he do to his daughter? You “hurt your little girl, and now you’re not her daddy anymore,” Megan’s daughter tells him. Regardless, we’re treated an individual whose life has been shredded and whose emotional stability teeters on the edge.
Taken in by Megan’s parents after his mother’s breakdown, Kyle’s relationship with his adopted sister complicates the situation further as her policeman husband regards him with total disdain despite acknowledging that Kyle did something in the past that saved his wife. What did Kyle do that so clearly terrifies him, and where has he been for the past five months. Finally, why do some of the townspeople welcome him while others keep their distance?
So what are we left with at the end of the episode? There’s a certain pathos that accompanies virtually every character we meet, and all appear damaged in one way or another. Demonic possession has not only plagued Kyle his entire life, but he feels, and it seems to be true, that the demon follows HIM yet imposes its will on those around him. We ask the same question he asks – why me? His mother, his wife, and now a young boy, each at varying times, are possessed by this demonic force whose motive remains ambiguous.
Preparing to watch Outcast, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m not a comics reader. I generally don’t gravitate towards horror, and I’m not a fan of The Walking Dead. But minutes into “A Darkness Surrounds Him” I found myself thoroughly immersed in a universe centered around a group of people enmeshed in a struggle against an evil they don’t understand. Watching the tenuous bond holding them together remain barely intact as they endeavor to help each other cope grabbed me and won’t let go.
A brilliant beginning; one of the best pilots I’ve seen in any genre.