This Irish/Scottish co-production is a peculiar beast indeed. The debut feature of TV drama director Colm McCarthy, Outcast fuses Celtic mythology and social drama in a supernatural tale set on a fictional council estate in Edinburgh.
Irish traveller Mary (Kate Dickie) and her teenage son Fergal (Niall Bruton) are on the run and in hiding. Hot on their tails are Cathal (James Nesbitt) and Liam (Ciarán McMenamin), two brothers charged with the job of hunting down and killing Mary and her son for a crime that remains a mystery. Possessed of dark magic, Cathal is like a caged animal, thirsty for blood; while Liam tries to keep his brother in check until the day he faces his prey.
In a bid to protect herself and her son, Mary is also using magic to keep her assassins at bay, and forbids Fergal from socialising. But, with his hormones going into overdrive, Fergal soon falls for Petronella (Hanna Stanbridge), a troubled teen living with an alcoholic mother and a mentally-challenged brother.
When Cathal finally arrives on the estate, it coincides with a spate of brutal murders that appear to be the work of a terrifying beast. Could his darks powers be responsible, or is he on a mission to stop it?
The use of Celtic mythology in the horror movie genre has been pretty light over the years. Trying to recall examples, I struggled beyond leprechauns (particularly Warwick Davis’ cackling fiend); banshees (like Patrick Mower in the underrated Cry of the Banshee); and human sacrifices (à la The Wicker Man). So, it’s exciting to see McCarthy drawing on such fertile folklore to create something truly original.
But Outcast is not without its faults. Most notably the ambitious story which ends up lacking focus. It should be about Fergal coming to terms with his origins, but its point of view flits uneasily from character to character in an attempt (I think) to create an air of mystery. I don’t think it works.
Secondly, the estate setting is just too grim. The fact the place looked abandoned in almost every scene, as though the tenants were too scared to venture out, gave me the shivers. Why do local authorities and architects consistently fail in social housing – well, that’s another debate.
Outcast might not strike the right note every time, but it is a welcome change from the usual slashers and misguided remakes. It also boasts some solid acting, especially from the likes of James Nesbitt (who scored a Best Actor award at the 2010 New York Horror Film Festival; he even gets his kit off) and newcomer Hanna Stanbridge; while the creature effects are suprisingly decent.
Doctor Who fans can also catch Karen Gillan (aka Amy Pond) in a tiny role as one of the creature’s first victims.
A grim – but highly-original – fairie tale for grown-ups.