Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Film: Outcast (2010)
Dir: Colm McCarthy
Rating: ***1/2 out of 5 stars

Outcast does not look like much based on its trailer and premise, but this modest little horror film may surprise you. It is a love story, a supernatural thriller, and a monster movie all in one. Don’t worry, it is nothing like Twilight. The film is occasionally convoluted and odd but strong performances and a unique story make it worth a look.

The tale begins with Fergal, an Irish teenage boy, and his mother Mary moving into a run-down apartment complex in Edinburgh, Scotland. They move next door to Petronella, a fiery teenage girl with an alcoholic mother and a mentally handicapped brother. The girl begins to take a romantic interest in her new Irish neighbor. What she does not know is that Fergal harbors a dark secret that keeps him and his mother on the run.

Two Irishmen, Cathal and Liam, are on the hunt for the pair, using black magic along the way to find them. While Petronella and Fergal are having secret rendezvous, Mary paints pagan symbols in blood on the walls of her apartment to protect them from being found. A dark shadow looms over the teenagers’ love as the Irish hunters close in and time begins to run out for Fergal.

The script, penned by director Colm McCarthy and his brother Tom, combines elements of Celtic mythology, pagan rituals, and even a touch of the Old English epic, Beowulf. There is a love story between Fergal and Petronella, but that aspect is a bit run-of-the-mill. Instead it is the horror elements – the hunters, the witchcraft, and even a beast – that really drive the film. It has themes of adolescence and sexual awakening tied into the horror, not unlike a werewolf tale. There are a few cheap jump-scares, but mostly the film excels at tension and creepiness.

The story is occasionally ambiguous and can be difficult to understand (partly due to the thick Irish and Scottish accents) but the vagueness seems somewhat deliberate. Perhaps the filmmakers chose to make it so vague because putting a specific label like “witch” on a character distracts from the story or makes it seem silly. The script is backed up by some nice visuals, too. The cinematography is gritty and dark, which is ideal considering the setting and the mood of the film. Visually, it is a little reminiscent of 28 Days Later. There are also some nice gore and creature effects to satisfy traditional horror fans.

Niall Bruton and Hanna Stanbridge, who play Fergal and Petronella respectively, are both quite good, but two other actors steal the movie. The first is Kate Dickie, whose portrayal of Mary is intense and occasionally frightening. Mary is clever, dangerous, and fiercely protective of her son – and with good reason. That reason is the other amazing performance in the film, James Nesbitt as Cathal. He is a cruel but ambitious hunter determined to find his prey. Because of the dark history Mary and Cathal share, they are locked in an endless battle over Fergal’s life. Their mutual hatred fuels the story, and each actor is perfect in their role. There is a scene where they engage in a “fight” in separate places without even standing up, yet it is pretty intense.

Outcast has more to offer than your average horror film. It combines a monster movie format with elements of the occult, romance and coming-of-age drama. Few films can pull off such an eclectic mixture of genres. The movie does not always make sense, but its imaginative story and engaging visual style help this little Irish film stand out amongst all the lame remakes and torture porn flicks being shat out of Hollywood these days.