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Scottish-set horror “Outcast” marks the feature debut of noted television helmer Colm McCarthy, known for his work on popular British series “Spooks”, “The Tudors” and “Murphy’s Law”. Mixing Celtic mysticism and rundown council estates, the film is a monster movie with a social conscience, making a bold stab at providing believable, grounded chills. Headlined by the up and coming Niall Bruton and Hanna Stanbridge, the film has a supporting cast of recognisable Brit talent including James Nesbitt (soon to be seen in “The Hobbit”), Karen Gillan (currently on screens in “Doctor Who”), James Cosmo (“Sons Of Anarchy”), Kate Dickie (“Somers Town”) and Christine Tremarco (“Waterloo Road”). Having proved popular at the London FrightFest in 2010, the film now arrives on DVD via Momentum Pictures.
The film takes place on a dilapidated council estate outside Edinburgh, where Irish travellers Mary (Kate Dickie) and her young son Fergal (Niall Bruton) set up home, keeping themselves very much to themselves. Fergal settles in well enough, making friends with a local Scottish-Romany girl called Petronella (Hanna Stanbridge), despite his mother having warned him to stay away from the ladies. Meanwhile, the dangerous Cathal (James Nesbitt) arrives in the area, determined to hunt down and kill Fergal for his own mysterious reasons. This all coincides with a series of brutal killings plaguing the estate, suggesting that there may be a vicious beast on the loose.
Celtic myth and legend have been used without much success in horror films for some years now, generally being thrown around without thought or conviction, and so it’s nice to see a film like “Outcast” making a genuine effort to weave them into a believably realistic world of curses, magic and monsters. McCarthy balances this well with the gritty realism of the film’s setting, and gets considerable mileage out of the novelty of having occultism taking place against a backdrop of grim council estates and rough looking pubs. This gives the film a pleasantly different feel, and he uses the Scottish locations well, giving an authentic sense of place and local colour, especially for those familiar with Edinburgh and the rest of the area. The film is evocative and atmospheric throughout, benefitting from a sense of menace and foreboding that oddly enough would probably still be there even if this weren’t a genre production.
Also on the plus side is the fact that the characters are well written and believable, and though the script in general is a bit weak in places it does manage to generate enough sympathy and interest in the central relationships. Mainly this is due to some impressive acting from newcomers Niall Bruton and Hanna Stanbridge, and although their protagonists and angst heavy romance are pretty standard fare, they are both very creditable in their roles. The plot is similarly interesting, providing a neat twist on the usual hunter and hunted scenario, and benefits from keeping the viewer somewhat in the dark for most of the running time by not heaping on the usual flashbacks and needless exposition. The creature effects, when they finally show up during the last fifteen minutes or so, are both awkward and kind of cool, and considering the budget are very reasonable and do inject a bit of fun and gore into the closing scenes.
Indeed, the film would probably have been better had McCarthy decided to show his monsters a little more liberally and to throw some viscera around a bit earlier in the running time, as he does at times seem to have been torn between horror and social realism. The film is often unfocused and drifts off on tangents, with the pace dropping off quite badly in the middle, when nothing much of interest happens apart from awkward teen romance. To be fair, there are a couple of random off screen killings, though these are very much at odds with the rest of the film, and since they were clearly inserted to try and remind the viewer that they are watching horror, they don’t really add much at all.
Whilst this does diminish the overall effectiveness of “Outcast”, it’s still a pretty decent effort, and one of the better British genre productions of the last year. One of the very few films to make good use of Celtic mythology and a Scottish setting, it provides a reasonable amount of gritty thrills and shows a new and interesting direction for the form.
Colm McCarthy (director) / Colm McCarthy, Tom K. McCarthy (screenplay)
CAST: Therese Bradley … Jitta
Niall Bruton … Fergal
Claire Catterson … Susan
James Cosmo … Laird
Kate Dickie … Mary
Karen Gillan … Ally
Andrew Martin … James