The horror genre is already oversaturated, still it
is possible to deliver films that feel fresh and novel within the
rather narrow confines of the genre. Outcast goes a long way to being
such a film. While firmly grounded in horror cliches the presentation
goes far beyond the traditional horror fare. The result is a neat little
genre flick that knows to impress on a shoestring budget and could well
be an example for many to come.
When writing this film the McCarthy brothers found their inspiration in
old Celtic myths. While not exactly the most popular mythic pool of
inspiration it all boils down to a spoonful of magic, symbolic tattoos
and evil beasts. In itself the horror elements within the film are far
from exciting, but McCarthy sure takes them interesting places.
The setting of the film reminded me a little of the first Candyman film
(La Haine if want cross-genre references and Aphex Twin's Come To Daddy
if you want cross-media references). In between barren and rundown
concrete housing projects a single mom and her son (Fergal) are renting a
small apartment, hiding from the rest of the world. But puberty is
hitting Fergal pretty hard, pushing him outside to meet with a young
girl living a little further down the hallway.
The story is revealed little by little, one piece of information at a
time. There are two people after Fergal, a social worker looking for
Fergal's mom and a group of British bullies who hang around the
projects, harassing Fergal and his newfound friends. They all connect
together but the hows and whats are not very clear from the start, only
to be revealed at later times.
How to make the best of a small budget then? Turn your weakness into a
strength, that's how. The crisp and dirty look of digital is nothing
less than stunning here, giving the barrenness of the film's setting a
whole new dimension. Dark shadows, rundown surroundings and ugly
concrete set the mood for this gritty horror film and bring a level of
seriousness that would usually fall flat on its face when coupled to
this kind of story. The look of Outcast reminded me a lot of Small Gods, another unique low-budget (horror) flick.
Stunning visuals alone won't suffice though, so McCarthy made absolutely
sure he had a good soundtrack to further exploit his dark setting. And
succeed he did. Lovely dark ambient with industrial overtones create
haunting atmospheres that merge with the images to sculpt a hellish
experience. Never underestimate the power of a good soundtrack,
especially when making a horror film.
Acting is pretty good too. Nothing too spectacular but for a largely
unknown cast they hold up pretty well. Especially if you consider how
hard it must've been to deliver what is basically a silly premise with
such a level of seriousness. I'm quite eager to see how Bruton or
Standbridge would fare in more complex roles in future films.
Up until the finale Outcast is an extremely strong and impressive horror
flick, sadly these few last scenes aren't on par with the rest of the
film. The monster design is a little lame, the effects don't really cut
it and it could've done with a more direct ending. It's not that bad
that it destroys all that came before, but McCarthy goes with a few
questionable choices, making it a lot harder for himself than need be.
Ending aside though, Outcast is an impressive little horror film. It
just goes to show that money can buy you fancy effects, big name actors
and lauded scriptwriters, but all you need to produce a good genre flick
is a simple digital camera, a smart score and a talented director. With
that Outcast goes beyond many of its peers who had much larger budgets
to play around with, serving as solid proof of McCarthy's talent.
With Outcast he delivers a dark, hellish and barren fantasy grounded in
obscure myths and set in a depressively dirty neighborhood. He makes a
little slip at the end, but definitely not serious enough to kill the
experience. If you're looking for a dark and different horror flick,
this is prime choice. I wouldn't exactly mind if this style of direction
became a small-scale trend either.
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