Film Review: Outcast

‘Outcast’ is an attempt to blend the supernatural themes of myth, magic and monsters within a contemporary urban setting.  It’s a tricky business to mix the extraordinary with the everyday and make it seem convincing. ‘Outcast’ just about pulls it off providing that you do not think about it for too long. Otherwise, you might realise that it’s all a little silly and I must admit that there were moments during the film when I found it hard not to laugh.

The film takes place on an Edinburgh council estate, a frightening enough location already some might argue. When Mary (Kate Dickie) and her teenage son Fergal (Niall Bruton) move into the area things get really weird.  Mary is a deadly serious woman with a fixed scowl and no time for outsiders. She exhibits an unusual taste in interior design by decorating the walls of their new flat with runes and symbols. If the council ever found out then she might be in trouble but this is unlikely to happen as the graffiti is part of a spell which renders Mary and her boy virtually untraceable to anyone who comes looking for them. Very handy if you wanted to avoid paying your TV licence.

Fergal ventures out on the estate and befriends local girl Petronella (Hannah Stanbridge) who is already having a hard time of it looking after her disabled brother and incapacitated mother.  You might think that Mary would be pleased that her son has found a nice girl to hang out with but not a bit of it.  When Fergal comes home at night, after seeing his new friend, Mary suddenly emerges out of the darkness and warns her son off any notions of hanky-panky with the lovely Petronella. In fact, she makes something of a habit of this but the young lad’s hormones pay her no heed.

Meanwhile, James Nesbitt shows up wearing his scary face rather than the twinkle-eyed persona he adopts when trying to sell us stuff on the telly. Here, he plays a right nutter called Cathal who really has it in for Mary and Fergal but why is not revealed until the very end of the film. We first see Cathal having an elaborate tattoo carved into his back. This is not your standard ink job as it allows Cathal to talk with the dead and ask for help on where his prey is hiding.  He neglects to ask the more obvious questions such as, “So, what’s it like being dead then?” Cathal has another trick for gaining information which is killing and gutting pigeons before reading their entrails like a black magic GPS.

As if having Cathal in town was not bad enough, there is also a vicious monster prowling the back alleys of the estate and dining on its inhabitants. One of the creature’s meals is played by Karen Gillan in a pre ‘Dr Who’ role and this time she is sadly unable to rely on an eccentric Timelord to pop up and save her. With Cathal’ s messy variation on pigeon fancying helping him move in on his quarry and the other beast leaving his leftovers all around town the story moves towards a violent and bloody showdown.

You have to credit the writer and director Colm McCarthy for trying to play out a horror picture in a setting normally reserved for gritty kitchen-sink dramas. Kudos also to the talented cast who manage to keep straight faces (Dickie’s is the straightest of all) through the whole thing. There is one scene where Nesbitt and Dickie take part in a long distance battle of psychic wills whilst both stark naked that must surely have given them cause to stop and wonder exactly what they had got themselves involved in.

‘Outcast’ reminded me of a TV series which used to scare the willies out of me as a child called ‘Hammer House of Horror.’ This also featured familiar faces in generally outlandish scenarios which could be camp and daft yet still managed to be chilling. ‘Outcast’ gets away with it in much the same way. Firstly, those involved in the film’s making really seem to believe in it which is always important.  Then, there is the fact that ‘Outcast’ is quite uncompromising when it comes to laying on the shocks, not in the sadistic manner that has blighted the horror genre in recent years but enough to remind you that the film is serious in its intentions. So, if at any point you are in doubt as to the film’s credulity, it will subsequently do something to pull you back into its alternate version of reality.

‘Outcast’ is by no means a great film but it has its moments. The monster, for instance, kept hidden in the dark for much of the movie is pretty impressive when it finally rears its ugly head, looking like a werewolf with a bad case of alopecia. There is no doubt an audience out there waiting for ‘Outcast’ and it is, at least, good to see a home grown crack at this type of material which is not cheap and tawdry. Who knows, what with ‘Outcast’ and the current revival of Hammer Films themselves, perhaps UK produced horror will rise from the grave once more.

About Alan Diment

Is a freelance writer and film critic. A total film buff who lives and breathes movies.

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