Blu-ray Review: THE OUTSIDER, The Monstrous Manifestation of Grief
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided the reviewer with a free copy ot the Blu-ray™ reviewed in this post. The opinions shared are the reviewer's own.
Much of Stephen King's work is dense enough that a mini-series does them far more justice than a two-hour film. A recent case in point is The Outsider. King's 500+ novel was adapted into a 10-part series that aired on HBO earlier this year, created by Richard Price, and with a hefty cast including Ben Mendelsohn, Cynthia Erivo, Jason Bateman, Paddy Considine, and Mare Winningham. Price is a veteran of crime drama (The Color of Money, Sea of Love, The Night Of), so it comes as no surprise that he would be attracted to King's story that combines a police procedural with a monster movie.
Television lends itself to deeper examination of the book's themes of loss, grief, and fear, and better depth of character; and of course, a far more intricate and terrifying monster. The release comes (on Blu-ray, digital, and DVD) quickly after the show's very successful airing earlier in the early months of this year, perhaps to take advantage of people being at home more.
The Outsider tells a harrowing story: a young boy is found dead, with clear evidence of horrific bodily harm; Detective Ralph Anderson (Mendelsohn) has all the iron-clad evidence he needs to arrest local teacher and baseball coach Terry Maitland (Bateman). Except new iron-clad evidence is found that puts Maitland miles from the crime. A person can't be in two places at once, but someone, Maitland was. This contradictory evidence puts him at odds with his fellow officers, Terry's wife, his own wife, and his own beliefs. Enter Holly Gibney (Erivo), a private investigator with an incredible mind and a talent for solving the most unbelievable of puzzles. For whatever it was that killed that boy, has caused so much trauma and grief, and more murders of the past and the future, and is more than likely not even human.
All deaths are awful and painful, but perhaps none more so than a child's. As a parent, you're not supposed to outlive your children. As a relative, friend, or community member, we feel a collective responsibility towards the safety and well-being of children. It's no wonder that pedophiles and convited child killers have to be placed in isolation in prisons; the life of a child is sacrosanct. Whether it's death from disease, as with Ralph's son, or murder, as the main case in The Outsider, the grief that comes with it is deep, it moves like lava through the body and hardens, a weight that parents and loved ones continue to bear. As this story tells, it destroys everything in its path, so much so, that perhaps it is easier to belief that there is some supernatural creature that feeds on such pain, rather than it being simply an unfair and horrible event.
Ralph is a intelligent but by-the-books detective, and human: he cannot believe, even as all the evidence is placed before him, that whatever is responsible for the child's death is something other than human. Holly, who might be categorized as on the spectrum, or just someone whose intelligence is so deep that it's impossible for her to be understood by too many, is the more adept Sherlock Holmes: she illiminates the impossible, and the improbable that remains is the truth. As a limited series, it gives all the main supporting characters room to occupy and enhance the space and story, especially Winningham's Jeannie as a counterpart to her husband Ralph's non-belief; Julianne Nicholson as the alleged murdered's grieving and enraged widow; Yul Vazquez as a forensics expert, who gives insight into the monster's mythology.
The series sets a dark and ominous tone; while daytime scenes dominate, there is still fear and foreboding, with the light as harsh and bright as a flashlight in the eyes. Colours are as washed out as the grieving parents' emotions, strained and tired as they push against the world that is trying to force them to move on, and a monster that pulls them back to feed on their fear. This fits with combining the police procedural with a supernatural tale: we want the loss of a loved one (however it happened) to be proved as serving some purpose, or having a meaning, when most of the time it is simply the random fact of life, and no amount of wishing, or grieving, will change this inexplicability, no matter how hard we try to reason it away, because even the supernatural one will never be enough to cover for the loss and the anger and the pain.
Price constructs an intricate and delicate form on which the different writers and directors build the story, and where the series formats helps with the many details that would otherwise be impossible to keep straight in a two-hour film. Terry's apparent innocence; a monster that can look like anyone, and yet still has human needs for food and shelter; a rogue cop who is helpless to obey the monster; and the one person who understands it all, is the one too many are reluctant to believe.
Physical releases of certain television shows, especially limited series based on Stephen King novels, are planned ahead, which gives distribution conmpanies time to plan and create extras such as interviews and featurettes well in advance. That seems to be the case with this show, given the short time between its broadcast and this release. On the one hand, this has the advantage of getting the major players all in one place to discuss the project, and certainly at a time of social distancing, you have your interviews done before circumstances make it difficult. On the other hand, it can mean a rushed product, one that arguably lacks the depth many collectors desire in their extras.
On the three-disc collection, each disc has a few featurettes on general topics, such as King's novel, adapting the work, and a few minutes looking into each episode and how it furthers the story and characters. King, Price, Mendelsohn, Eviro, Bateman, as well as Dennis Lehane and Andrew Bernstein, who wrote and directed some of the episode respectively, all share their thoughts, divided into the different features, as oppose to each as a separate interview. This mainly works, as it allows the subject to be the centre of exploration, as oppose to the interviewee. (Though there were a number of times where clips from interviews were repeated, which was odd).
The two most interesting featurettes were first on the monster itself, El Cuco, what it eas in the novel and what it became in the show, and how Price and his team worked to create such a creature that could slowly terrify. The second was on Holly, easily the most interesting character (even more so than El Cuco) and one of King's more interesting creations. Both of these characters would benefit from more time devoted to them, both in their presentation and the actors' performances.
The extras add up to a bit more than 40 minutes - a little on the light side considering the length of the series, again perhaps rushed a bit to get it to a market stuck at home. The series is definitely worth the time, both for fans of police procedurals and horror stories, not only for the well-crafted combination of these two genre forms, but for the excellent performances.
The Outsider will be released by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment on July 28th, 2020, on DVD and Blu-ray.