Outcast is a strange concoction of occult fantasy and social drama – think Ken Loach meets Angel Heart and you’re on the right track. An Irish woman, Mary (Kate Dickie) and her teenage son, Fergal (Niall Bruton) move to a lower-class council estate somewhere in “Bonnie Scotland, Lothian” and try to settle down. They are being chased by a pair of hunters, Cathal (James Nesbitt) and Liam (Ciarán McMenamin) – sworn to rid the world of a beast which is following Mary and Fergal. Their next door neighbour Petronella – a Scottish/Romanian girl saddled with a mentally-challenged tank of a brother and an alcoholic mother – catches Fergal off-guard and they start a too-good-to-be-true relationship. In the sidelines, very bad things are happening to innocent people (Doctor Who’s current assistant – Karen Gillan turns up as Dead Teenager #1), and pain-in-the-backside social workers.
Performances in Outcast are almost uniformly very strong. The magnificent Kate Dickie is quite simply incapable of giving a bad performance and her Mary is a screen-commanding creation: an intense, stony and full-on sorceress, unrepentantly vicious when her back is in the corner. James Nesbitt as Cathal is a crawling, brutally insane nightmare of a man, both blessed and doubly drunk with booze and supernatural powers, sporting a “shiny new skin”. Hanna Stanbridge as Petronella, is less impressive, the various fast and tough choices that she must make within the story are mishandled. It’s a fine debut, however, and the camera loves her. The main cast make a marvellous ensemble – every quality performance illuminating a world beyond the one portrayed in the there and then. Sadly, most of the rest of the cast has been drawn from central casting, and let the side down – even if it’s just for a few minutes.
Director Colm McCarthy knows his genre – and how to provide a fresh sting in the tale. The script astutely blends Celtic folklore, creepy occult sorcery and strong social drama into a strange, and rather original fusion. All of this clever worldbuilding nonsense is given good shift by the excellent – Sylvain Chomet (The Illusionist) knows how to make Edinburgh look achingly beautiful? McCarthy and his excellent director of photography Darran Tiernan make it look like a great gothic dungeon. Additionally, the sound design is superior and adds immeasurably to the atmosphere.
McCarthy divines his strongest suit in the movie early on, the unrepentant vein of voracious carnality that drives the chased and the hunters. Two of the film’s best scenes are quite simply well-edited sequence of bodies. Fergal and Petronella’s bodies are cross-cut, dreaming of one another in the dead of night, and in tender solo masturbation. The other is Mary and Cathal locked in a naked psychic conflict – heavy breathing and howling for enraged one-upmanship.
For much of its runtime, Outcast may be the best British horror film since The Descent, and keeps hearts in the right place – our throats. Occasional breaks in its verisimilitude (such as the aforementioned crummy side-cast) and a rather bog-standard monster movie finale keep it from top marks. That being said, it’s a wonderful calling card for a feature debut, and I look forward to more in the future.