Review: Outcast

Film review
Directed by Colm McCarthy
Starring Kate Dickie, Niall Bruton, James Nesbitt, Hanna Stanbridge, James Cosmo, Karen Gillan

Mary (Dickie) and her son Fergal (Bruton) move from place to place, trying to evade someone or something. This time things feel different, as the diffident Fergal strikes up a friendship with his tough but good-hearted neighbour Petronella (Stanbridge). But the mysterious hunter Cathal (Nesbitt) is on their trail…

Though the poster art and generic title suggest a straightforward creature feature, Outcast is actually part of the new wave of social realist horror (see also Heartless, F and Salvage). If you wondered what Fish Tank might have felt like with added magic and monsters, here’s your chance to find out.

Writer-director Colm McCarthy’s debut feature is certainly an intriguing affair. He creates a bleak but believable world where drab, decaying housing estates and a mystical underworld exist side by side, and the high-shutter speeds and murky lighting lend the unusual narrative an almost documentary-style realism. Meanwhile, the rumbling, suitably ominous soundtrack hints at the violence and tragedy to come.

For all its cleverness, Outcast remains a tough watch. The tone is unremittingly bleak and (unlike something like Fish Tank or Morvern Callar) there’s little in the way of humour or hope to offset the doom. Yet it is kept compelling by a terrific cast, including a quietly sinister James Nesbitt as the borderline-psycho tasked with tracking Fergal down, and Red Road’s Katie Dickie as the equally psychotic magical mother who’ll do anything to protect her child (a child she seems to share an almost incestuous relationship with).

The younger cast are also excellent, Niall Bruton bringing to life the confused, socially-awkward teenager who’s torn between obeying his mother’s rules and following his own urges, and Hannah Stanbridge as the local girl whose tough front masks her own troubled personal life. Watch out too for Karen Gillan in a small role as Petronella’s pal (a fact that has played a prominent role in the movie’s marketing, though this was filmed before Doctor Who).

The finale’s fine non-CG creature effects should please horror-hounds holding out for some romping monster action, but may infuriate those looking for a more unconventional resolution to this complex modern fairytale. Matt McAllister

VERDICT: 7/10
It’s the kitchen sink An American Werewolf in London! OK, so it’s not as good as that description makes it sound, but Outcast is an interesting, if depressing, Irish/Scottish horror with its scares mostly rooted in real life.

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