Tuesday, October 1, 2019

#2,503. Outcast (2010)

Directed By: Colm McCarthy

Starring: Kate Dickie, Niall Bruton, Hanna Stanbridge

Tagline: "Evil Runs In The Blood"

Trivia: The book Mary gives Fergal for his birthday is "Titus Alone", the concluding volume in the 'Gormenghast' trilogy by Mervyn Peake

Outcast, a 2010 Irish horror film directed by Colm McCarthy, hits the ground running; in the opening scenes, a man arrives at a trailer park and announces he’s ready to take on “the mission”. This man is then led inside, and subjected to what appears to be a very painful tattoo session, covering his entire torso in ancient insignias. 

At the same time, a woman rents a rundown apartment in a Scottish tenement, and during her first night there performs a ceremony where she chants in Gaelic, cuts a gash into her chest, and uses the blood to paint a symbol on the wall. 

We know nothing about either of these two characters at this point, or why they’re subjecting themselves to all this pain. In fact, through a fair portion of Outcast, we’re kept in the dark as to what is actually happening, yet director McCarthy (who co-wrote the screenplay with his brother Tom) still manages to weave the tale in a manner that is consistently intriguing. 

Eventually, we find out that the man with the new tattoos is Cathal (James Nesbitt), and he has agreed to hunt down and kill a mother and her teenage son. The woman who sliced her own chest is Mary (Kate Dickie), the mother Cathal is now after, and she lives with her son Fergel (Niall Bruton). Mary and Fergel have been on the run for some time, but now that Fergel’s 15th birthday is upon them, mom and son know they’re in danger, and are sitting tight in their new surroundings, waiting for Cathal to bring the fight to them. 

Then one very unexpected complication arises: the shy and withdrawn Fergel catches the eye of pretty next door neighbor Petronella (Hanna Stanbridge), who lives with her alcoholic mother and mentally challenged brother, Tomatsk (Josh Whitelaw). While Mary is busy doing everything she can to protect her son, Fergel and Petronella fall deeply in love with one another. But as Mary warns Petronella, Fergel is no ordinary teenager, and there will be dire consequences should the two youngsters ever decide to consummate their relationship. 

Along with building upon its central mystery (why are Mary and Fergel being hunted?), Outcast repeatedly blurs the line between good and evil in that we’re never quite sure who it is we should be rooting for: Cathal or Mary, both of whom are capable of terrible things (having tracked mother and son to the tenement complex, Cathal tortures a teenager to try and learn their exact whereabouts, while Mary uses her knowledge of ancient Gaelic to send a pesky housing officer, played by Christine Tremarco, off to meet her doom). As events unfold, though, we begin to realize that part of the film’s charm is it avoids creating clear-cut heroes and villains for as long as it does, keeping our curiosity piqued as we watch some pretty intense stuff play out before our eyes. 

Though steeped in Gaelic folklore and customs, Outcast is nonetheless a violent, down-and-dirty horror film, featuring its fair share of bloody gore (some of which the characters inflict upon themselves). As far as the performances are concerned, Bruton’s Fergel and Stanbridge’s Petronella make for a likable couple, and the two are solid in their respective roles. But it’s James Nesbitt and Kate Dickie who command our attention, and the battle of wills between them proves to be the film’s most fascinating aspect. In one memorable scene, Cathal, aided by his guide Liam (Ciarán McMenamin), attempts to locate the apartment where Mary and Fergel are hiding by honing in on Mary’s psychic energy, while Mary, in the comfort of said apartment, uses whatever spells she can to keep Cathal from completing his task. The two never meet face-to-face in this scene, yet we see in their faces (which McCarthy shows by cutting back and forth between the two) just how fierce this mental skirmish has become. 

Shot on location in Scotland and Ireland, Outcast is a very gritty film (the tenement complex is the perfect locale for what proves to be a bloody showdown), and there are even moments when the movie delves into creature feature territory (resulting in a final scene that is as tense as it is exciting). But with its roots firmly entrenched in ancient customs and traditions, Outcast is more than a run-of-the-mill, gore-infused monster flick, and the deliberate manner in which director McCarthy relates his tale of spells and magic adds quite a bit to the film’s overall appeal.

1 comment:

Jeff Williams said...

Dave I LOVED this movie! I had seen it on (I think) Shudder and put it in my queue. I moved it up after hearing you talk about it and finally watched it.

Magic...old religion...and a beast...with good acting, writing and direction. It's a smart and realistic (read GRITTY) portrayal of magic use, beastly attacks, and an awesome showdown. There's young love, tragedy, and a helluva "Mama Bear", well played by Kate Dickie, going to all lengths to protect her boy. James Nesbitt stars as a rival magic user out to kill the mom and son, and the movie totally belongs to these two amazing actors. Fun! Fun!
This one's a keeper.