Outcast (2010)

 Reviewed by Pierre-Wolf

Starring Therese Bradley, Niall Bruton, Claire Catterson, James Cosmo, Kate Dickie

Directed by Colm McCarthy

“This is the end of the road”, intones Mary to her teenage son Fergal as she sets their van on fire in a desolate industrial hell of decrepit factories and power plants. That this line is spoken in the first five minutes of Outcast says a lot about the film, for better or for worse. Mary and Fergal are about to go way beyond the road, and the forecast for the next ninety minutes is dreary with a chance of confusion.

Mary (Kate Dickie) and Fergal (Niall Bruton) have just relocated to a new home in a dilapidated Edinburgh apartment complex. They’re obviously on the run from something, judging from the bit about their van, but co-writer/director Colm McCarthy keeps the mystery going for most of the first act. It isn’t long before Fergal is making nice with Petronella, the hottie next door (Hanna Stanbridge), and mom is topless (?) and painting the walls of their apartment with runes (to ward off evil spirits, we’re told), and casting spells on nosy social workers (this she does with her shirt on). Meanwhile, a secret society of monster hunters dispatches a couple of agents (James Nesbitt and Ciarán McMenamin) to locate and destroy Fergal, suggesting that Mary and Fergal are hiding something beastly about Fergal’s true nature. Then the bodies start piling up, courtesy of a marauding creature that roams the streets at night… is it Fergal, or is it something else?

With its intriguing set-up, amazingly bleak industrial and residential locations and mostly talented cast (a humourless Kate Dickie takes Linda Hamilton’s performance in Terminator 2 as a starting point and runs with it), Outcast had the potential to be something more than the murky, oh-so-straight-faced and unintentionally funny monster movie that it eventually becomes (see “topless rune painting”, above). McCarthy takes too long to create a real sense of urgency between monster hunters Cathal and Liam and their beleaguered prey. By the time he does, it’s simply too late, and Cathal and Liam are simply not threatening enough with their frequent quips and asides. Slightly less humourless than Mary (but by no means not unintentionally hilarious), Liam and Cathal elicited many a chuckle as the latter instructs the former about the finer points of monster-hunting in one interminable sequence that would make more accomplished movie gurus like Yoda and Morpheus cringe.

The movie sports some great visuals and production design, and McCarthy infuses it with a myriad of bizarre elements that, if he fails, it’s certainly not for lack of trying: Outcast is populated with enough impromptu pigeon sacrifices, random incantations, gratuitous football hooligans and cursed social workers to last us a lifetime. Sadly, to quote the detective from Psycho, “If it doesn’t gel, then it’s just not aspic.” (I never knew what aspic was until now, but I’ve always enjoyed that line). It all comes down to one central problem: We never really know who the central characters are or where they’ve been or where they want to go. Ambiguity is one thing; being vague is something else entirely.

It must be said that although Outcast bears some similarities to other classic and not-so-classic genre films – it echoes the no-nonsense-killer-on-the-hunt-for-a-mother-and-her-son plot from The Terminator; sports shades of Carrie when Mary suggests that Fergal was conceived during her unwilling (or willing?) tryst with an ungodly beast; shares its abstinence-in-the-face-of-temptation morality with The Twilight Saga; and features a monster that looks like a cross between Lamberto Bava’s Demons and The Incredible Hulk (as ridiculous as that sounds, this is not a bad thing) – McCarthy’s film never feels derivative, suggesting that, armed with a more clearly-focused narrative, he’s a talent well worth looking out for.

2 out of 5

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