Friday, October 19, 2012

30 Days of Nightmares #23: OUTCAST (2010)

 The Story: A mother uses Celtic runes to protect her teenage son from a mythical monster that's somehow connected to his absent father.

Expectations: I didn't know much about this movie except that it had a character in it named Fergel.  That was my takeaway from the vague Netflix synopsis.  The American poster/DVD art doesn't even suggest a subgenre (which is why I've featured the international poster art above).  If I had realized that this was a monster movie and that the title "Outcast" was a play on "casting the runes," I would have watched this one sooner.

Reaction: Everything I know about Celtic runes (which, admittedly, is not much) I learned from M.R. James.  Early 20th century British supernatural fiction is fascinating to me, because it is so hyper-intellectual.  The works of writers like James are steeped in ancient and pagan history, so they don't have to draw their horror from Romantic ideas.  Frankenstein and Dracula have history, but a story like M.R. James's "Casting the Runes" (the basis of Jacques Tourneur's excellent monster movie CURSE OF THE DEMON) harkens back to a time and place when magic was accepted -- and feared -- as a common part of everyday life.  Believe what you will, but for me that historical context makes it easier to believe in a movie monster.

In the same way that TROLL HUNTER goes back to ancient Norse mythology and Scandinavian folklore, instead of embracing modern movie ideas about trolls, OUTCAST goes back to the Celtic origins of an even more familiar mythical monster.  (Mind you, the tones of these two films are completely different.)  I'm not saying that OUTCAST is an unqualified success, but I am saying that the film takes a very familiar formula and transforms it into something with renewed vitality.

One of the key jobs of a horror filmmaker is to make the audience believe in the unknown.  It helps that this myth is grounded in a relatable family drama.  The main character, teenaged Fergel, is torn between an aggressively overprotective mother and a predatory father.  Who couldn't relate to his desire to run away with the cute girl next door?  Things aren't that simple, of course... especially when you're living with an ancient curse.  OUTCAST blends the ancient and the modern, the mythic and the everyday, with an ease worthy of Joss Whedon (though again, the tone is completely different -- maybe LET THE RIGHT ONE IN would be a better comparison).  The end result is proof that horror can easily thrive in the world we know... once we remember that "civilization" is just a thin veneer on human history.

Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: It's the implications of the family dynamic that hit hardest in this movie.  Mother displays a bit too much physical intimacy with her teenaged son, and dear old dad... well, let's just say that he's got a got a dark side too.


  1. Ooh, I'm intrigued. I may put it on my Instant streaming queue. Thanks, Joe.

  2. Michael - If you watch it, definitely let me know what you think. I was pleasantly surprised.

    1. I enjoyed this. I won't say I loved it, but the gritty look and Scottish locale (I see it was shot in Edinburgh) enhanced the mood. I thought the urban blight (like CANDYMAN) served as a wonderfully stark canvas to paint the story upon. The Scottish actress Kate Dickie and young Hanna Stanbridge were quite somethin'-- easily my favorites in the film. I also admire that the people put forward, when it came to violence with the blade, avoided the Hollywood stylings (drama) and simply cut the major artery when it came time for such a thing. Good recommendation, Joe. Thanks.

    2. Glad you liked it! I've been thrilled with some of the movies I've seen this month... Two more surprisingly good ones coming this weekend!