A complete lack of personal hygiene and social skills saw Judge Paul Pritchard made an outcast by his own family.
Fear the Unknown.
With the horror genre showing few signs of originality in recent years, it's frustrating to see those few films that do attempt something different so often end up getting buried amongst an avalanche of direct-to-video dross. Having first premiered in 2010, writer-director Colm McCarthy's Outcast is now out on DVD under the "Bloody Disgusting Selects" label.
Facts of the Case
Mary (Kate Dickie, Somers Town) lives with her teenage son, Fergal (Niall Bruton), in a rundown council estate in Edinburgh. Mary is extremely protective of her son, and so urges extreme caution when Fergal meets and falls in love with Petronella (Hanna Stanbridge), a young girl of Romany descent who lives on their estate.
Mary's fears for her son go beyond mere concerns over his choice in girlfriend, for Mary and Fergal harbor a dark secret that threatens everyone around them when Cathal (James Nesbitt, Coriolanus)—a dangerous hunter in possession of a black magic that imbues him with supernatural powers—arrives in town determined on killing them both. Not unfamiliar with the art of black magic herself, Mary takes increasingly desperate measures to protect her son, but faces an even greater threat when a feral beast begins slaughtering local residents.
There's something immediately unsettling about Outcast that stems from its blending of a kitchen sink aesthetic with the paranormal. Much like Ben Wheatley's Kill List, Colm McCarthy's indie horror strips away the mundanity of everyday life—this time on a tough Scottish council estate—to reveal the terrifying world that lives just below the surface; a world that goes much deeper and darker than the gangs of disaffected youth who prowl the streets, a world where magic (particularly the black kind) is very real. Throw in a forbidden romance that acts as the film's linchpin, and Outcast is revealed as something of a modern-day fairy tale well worth your time.
It would have been very easy for Outcast to slip up as it attempts to blend an old school monster movie (think The Wolf Man) with old Celtic rituals, not to mention the aforementioned love story. Although cracks do occasionally appear, writer-director McCarthy manages to find just the right balance to keep his movie ticking along at a quick pace, whilst ensuring his audience remains fully invested in his story. Initially appearing to be a fairly routine tale of life on a council estate, the shift towards a more fantastical premise is a surprisingly smooth one. The juxtaposition of a rundown estate with a world of magic, curses, and monsters proves extremely effective, as the realism granted by the setting heightens the impact of the supernatural element.
There are problems with Outcast, but nothing that proves fatal. The second act drags a little, as it occasionally struggles to maintain the momentum of the opening act whilst holding off the big revelations until the finale. Speaking of which, the film's climax isn't without fault. Having spent most of the film lurking in the shadows, with only the briefest glimpses of the creature being afforded to the viewer, the final reveal of the beast is disappointing, to say the least. An unconvincing blend of prosthetics and CGI, the creature resembles an anorexic Hulk mixed with a werewolf smothered in KY Jelly.
The cast, which features a number of newcomers in prominent roles, impresses on the whole, with one or two standouts. Newcomer Hanna Stanbridge delivers a confident performance as Petronella, infusing the role with a real feistiness whilst ensuring the character's softer side is still evident. James Cosmo (Braveheart) and Karen Gillan (Doctor Who) appear in small roles that reveal the depth of talent amongst the cast. Leads James Nesbitt and Kate Dickie bring real menace to the film. Dickie in particular makes an impression due to the way she ensures both aspects of her character—those being the protective mother and the powerful witch—are so well realized. When she curses a nosy social worker, it's hard not to be a little frightened by Dickie's terrifying glare. The only slight blip is Niall Bruton as Fergal. In truth, Bruton delivers a solid performance. The problems stem from the fact that Fergal is the catalyst around whom everyone else revolves, but is given very little to do himself.
Director Colm McCarthy, best known for his work on UK TV shows Murphy's Law and The Tudors, should be commended for how understated his film is. McCarthy shows a great deal of restraint with regard to how the supernatural elements of the film are handled, and puts a great deal of effort into keeping his film grounded. It's just a shame then that McCarthy should fumble the ending so badly, which sees much of that restraint go out the window as the film devolves into a poorly executed monster movie.
Vivendi's DVD sports an excellent 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. Black levels immediately impress, while the muted color palette adds to the film's morbid tone. The picture is sharp, with only a light layer of grain, and contains high levels of detail. The 5.1 soundtrack offers a spacious mix, with crisp dialogue complemented by some excellent effects work. The DVD is let down slightly by a poor offering of extras. Although the behind-the-scenes featurette offers up a few interesting insights into the film, thanks to the cast and crew interview, it frequently feels like an afterthought. The only other special features are a stills gallery and trailer.
Despite the odd stumble, Outcast proves to be an interesting and frequently effective horror movie for those looking for something a little different than the average werewolf movie.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Vivendi Visual Entertainment
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