It seems like lately, I’ve been watching a lot of Indie horror films that are looking to bend the genre in one way or another. Films that have decided to use a horror or supernatural element as the jumping off point for a human story. In the case of Outcast, that’s a relationship drama, a love story and a chase movie.
Mother Mary (Kate Dickie) and her son Fergal (Niall Bruton) are a pair on the run, but from what and from whom? They take up residence in a crumbling apartment complex at the outset of the film. Moments later we begin to understand that something sets Mary apart from the rest of us. She strips naked and begins to paint ancient symbols on the apartment walls using some unholy mixture of blood and herbs. At the same time another man, Cathal (James Nesbitt) is having the symbols tattooed on this back. He hopes to use these symbols to find Mary and Fergal. Find them, and kill them.
As if being on the run from a murderous thug weren’t enough complications for the teenage Fergal, his next door neighbor Petronella (Hanna Stanbridge) has caught his eye. To top all this off, some strange beast is attacking residents of the surrounding apartments.
Director Colm McCarthy (The Tudors) and co-writer Tom McCarthy have quite a dilemma on their hands with Outcast. How far do you push into you supernatural tale to keep the audience enthralled in the midst of 3 divergent plot lines. First we have the mother and son dynamic. Mary is utterly controlling–telling herself this is what she had to do to keep her child alive. Fergal, is 17-ish (he may be much, much older) and rebelling against his mother’s overbearing ways is status quo for the day. Petronella, offers Fergal something he’s never had before. A chance at true love and the promise of perhaps another life. The final complex piece in this power struggle is Cathal–who is he and why does he want to kill the family? It’s clear he’ll gain power from this. The power that perhaps comes with killing a Witch.
The primary characters at the center of this triangle are some kind of ancient race of magical beings. The film is at first unclear if they are human or merely humanoid. How long have they been here and why? What is the beast that is randomly killing the residents and is it connected to Mary and Fergal or is it Cathal?
Outcast is great at setting up questions and not quite as adept at answering them. But that’s not the problem with the film. The problem is that the production has a hard time balancing all the stories and giving all of the characters their due. The most blatant issue is that we never truly learn enough about Mary. As the key player in the pursuit and the principal architect of her sons protection, Mary remains something of a mystery and even when her relationship to Cathal is clarified, it leaves a lot of room for interpretation.
The best parts of the movie involve the burgeoning relationship between Fergal and Petronella. It’s hard to not root for the kid here. His life is a mess and even though Petronella hardly offers him a stable environment, it does offer him at least a little base human connection.
Human connections are really what Outcast is all about. It’s using the supernatural as the catalyst for the story. But it’s not the story. It’s the spark. The story is about people and relationships and how relationships can blossom and how they can sour. And when they sour it’s about the aftermath. Heady stuff for a film that bills itself as a fantasy piece involving dark wizardry. Perhaps not completely successful, Outcast is still an interesting experiment in bending a genre story to suite the needs of the characters at the center of it.