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.