“Beware The Beast Within”
Director: Colm McCarthy
Cast: Kate Dickie, Niall Bruton, Hanna Stanbridge
Synopsis: It tells the tale of Petronella (a Scottish/Romany girl) and Fergal (her mysterious Irish traveller boyfriend). As their doomed relationship plays out, a Beast stalks the estate, killing locals, working its way towards our protagonists
Horror movies mired in Celtic mythology and set on bleak Scottish council estates are pretty few and far between — in fact, I can’t even think of another example, so first-time feature director Colm McCarthy is to be applauded for finding something new in an overcrowded genre, even though what he has essentially delivered with Outcast is the age-old werewolf story in new clothes. Well, actually, the monster in this flick wears no clothes at all, ripping them apart Hulk-style whenever he metamorphoses from his human form, but you get the idea. Given the limited budget McCarthy was working with, the monster is quite impressive, but the movie suffers from a poorly conceived script that is designed to be deliberately enigmatic, but which simply irritates more than it intrigues.
Newcomer Niall Bruton plays Fergal, a shy young man who moves to a run-down council estate with his mother Mary (Kate Dickie – one of those paradoxically familiar faces who never seems to have been in anything you’ve seen). As Niall develops a relationship with young Romany neighbour Petronella (Hanna Stanbridge), his mother anxiously warns the young girl off as she attempts to hide their whereabouts from Cathal, a mysterious, heavily-tattooed traveller (James Nesbitt) who is seeking them out under the warily watchful eye of a community elder (James Cosmo). While this is going on, a series of brutal murders appear to have been carried out on the estate by some kind of sub-human beast.
For the first 20 minutes or so it’s nigh-on impossible to figure out what’s going on in Outcast, so loosely woven are the strands of Colm and Tom K. McCarthy’s script. Instead of flowing as they should, each scene seems disjointed and completely unrelated, as if two or three different films have been cobbled together. It’s quite disconcerting, which, given the script’s tendency to play it’s cards irritatingly close to its chest, may in fact be deliberate. The rituals employed by Cathal as he searches for Niall and his mother, and the traditions of the Romany tribe into which he seems to be indoctrinated in the film’s opening scenes, are also never fully explained, leaving us in the dark as to just why he is pursuing mother and son. This lack of backstory means the film never generates any real tension as Cathal slowly draws nearer to his quarry.
James Nesbitt plays Cathal, and he’s an interesting actor. Familiar to most as a chipper type on light TV shows, he’s equally adept at taking on much darker roles, and delivers a convincing performance as a man whose undercurrent of anger always seem in danger of spilling over into violence. Kate Dickie also stands out in an unsympathetic role, but the accents and mumbled delivery of the two young leads too often makes it difficult to understand what is being said — especially frustrating when they seem to be revealing key plot points.
Where Outcast does score is in its invoking an atmosphere of dread and despair perfectly in keeping with the story and its locale. Many scenes are shot through a blue filter, giving the impression of a world and people trapped in perpetual twilight, and the empty concrete structures of the council estate contribute to the coldly oppressive atmosphere. A happy ending is never an option in Outcast, and while the finale feels a little weak, it’s at least consistent with all that’s gone before.