Monster Movie Madness Presents
By Rob Smales
Welcome to Monster Movie Madness, where we take a look at flicks and films dealing with threats and things that aren’t exactly human. Hell, most of ’em aren’t human at all—and those are the really fun ones!
I hope you like kilts, caber tossing, and haggis—but the first bloke to whip out a bagpipe and start wailing away’s going to get it in the neck, I swear to God. Yup, you guessed it: we’re going to Scotland this month to see what it’s like for the OUTCAST (2010).
Written by Colm and Tom McCarthy
Directed by Colm McCarthy
Warning: this review may contain spoilers.
Our story flip-flops between two groups of people. Mary (Kate Dickie) and her fifteen-year-old son, Fergal (Niall Bruton), drive to some council housing outside of Edinburgh, where they rent a craphole flat next to a pretty young girl with a drunken mother and mentally disabled brother. Meanwhile, Cathal (James Nesbitt) and Liam (Ciarán McMenamin) drive to a muddy trailer encampment. Cathal approaches the oldest of the men sitting about the fire and says he’s there to accept their proposal. The elder proceeds to tattoo Cathal’s back and upper arms with a series of runes, using the old-fashioned—and extremely painful—method combining a needle-brush and small hammer.
Because in Scotland, they’re so tough that’s how they shake hands.
Cathal is in serious pain, but bears it stoically until the old man says it’s done. At this pronouncement, miles away, in a scenario worthy of a Time-Life Books ad, Mary wakes in the middle of the night to sit bolt upright. She grabs a knife and proceeds to slice her own flesh, then collect the blood.
Because in Scotland, they’re so tough, self-mutilation is what they do instead of coffee in the morning. (See above re: shaking hands.)
She adds the blood to some paint and inscribes a symbol on the wall—a protective rune of some kind—using a brush fashioned from her own hair. As she finishes her art, we rejoin Cathal and his tattooist. Old Hammer-And-Needle tells Cathal the markings will give him their (his and his people’s) magic for one moon. He may use the magic to hunt down and kill only the boy.
Just in case we’re not sure which boy the ancient skin-artist is putting the crosshairs on, the scene shifts back to Fergal, watching his mother torch their van in the early morning light, telling him it’s the end of the road; they won’t run anymore.
Because in Scotland, they’re too tough to pay for parking: they simply torch the vehicle where it stands and call it a day.
Fergal meets Petronella (Hanna Stanbridge), the girl next door. It’s fairly obvious Fergal’s been sheltered his whole life, and isn’t used to people, especially girls. They join up with a friend of hers, Ally (Karen Gillian—yeah, I had a Hey, that’s Amy Pond! moment, there) and then Paul, Petronella’s ex-boyfriend and a tremendous dick. After Petronella argues with her ex, the scene shifts to Cathal and Liam, who’s sort of acting as Cathal’s handler. They’ve come into town to meet with Laird, another elder, to tell him they are on a hunt and ask permission to follow it into his territory. Laird says he’ll think on it, but doesn’t appear too thrilled. He also doesn’t seem to like Cathal much, understanding he’s the vessel of the other group’s power and what it means—and from comments he makes, referencing Cathal’s “running amok in his shiny new skin,” it sounds like the tattoos are going to transform him into some kind of hunting creature. Like a werewolf, perhaps?
Holy crap! How tough is a Scottish werewolf?
Over dinner that night, Fergal admits to Mary he was hanging around with a girl. Mary seems a little tense about it. Fergal says if he’s going to live as a normal kid now, he’s going to meet girls. Mary loses her temper a bit, warning him that no matter how normally he wants to live, he can’t be like other kids. She can smell the desire on him (shades of Piper Laurie in CARRIE, 1976), and says he can’t be like that, that he can’t fight or fornicate, because if he gets too excited in any way, he could change—and then it would all be over.
Change? Wait—who’s the werewolf here? Is that why Fergal’s being hunted?
Fergal wakes in the night, agitated, and possibly aroused. At the same time, Petronella’s next door, apparently caught up in some kind of synchronous sex dream. Is there a connection between them? Meanwhile, Ally is off partying with Paul and some of his friends. Things are getting little hot and heavy when Ally pushes Paul, saying she’s not having sex right in front of a bunch of people; he calls her frigid bitch and send her away (See what I mean about the tremendous dick?). She’s walking home, crying, when something big comes out if the darkness, hitting her like a snarling, slavering runaway truck before she’s dragged, screaming, into an alley. Her screams don’t last long.
Ally is slaughtered in an alley. Because even the Scottish sense of humor is tough.
So, is Fergal the monster, or is it Cathal? Is there some connection between Fergal and Petronella? Which will prove the stronger: Cathal’s hunting magic or Mary’s protective runes? And why is it that since I hit my forties, my underwear has started riding up on me in the middle of the day? For the answers to three of these questions—and more—you’ll have to watch the damn film.
Now, do I think you should watch the damn film?
I went into this movie with no expectations, but some hope; I’d found it on Shudder, the cover image looked good, and the description said it was about a witch and directed by Colm McCarthy (famous for directing THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS, 2016, y’all!). I hadn’t reviewed a witch movie yet, and this one starred James Nesbitt, and I like him. (If you haven’t seen the BBC miniseries JEKYLL, 2007, you’ve done yourself a disservice; even if you don’t like the series, Nesbitt’s performance alone is worth watching.)
OUTCAST is kind of a mystery/magical/monster movie, and in my opinion the blend works. The whole thing has a very old world feel to it; this isn’t flashy comic book magic competing for screen time with zip-zap superpowers, but a slower, more subtle thing, fueled by blood and sacrifice. You’re not sure who the bad guy is, really, because it’s like real life: everyone involved thinks they’re the hero, firmly convinced they’re doing the right thing.
The whole film has a gritty, dark feel to it that gives the story a wonderful tone. This isn’t about high fantasy, or the modern-day haves, but the have nots, the hardscrabble lives of people existing on the periphery of society. Kate Dickey plays a fantastic witch mother, wanting to make her son happy, but needing to keep him safe. Nesbitt makes a terrific righteous hunter—sometimes angry, sometimes confused, but always certain he’s in the right.
The effects in this film are minimal, which fits the story. These are people, whether monster, witch, or hunter, who are trying very hard to remain unnoticed by the world at large, and most of what they do is meant to happen in the dark, private places; if they do anything with a bit of flash, it’s probably desperation time. And everything—everything—has some kind of cost.
The performances in this film range from decent to excellent. I’ve already mentioned I’m a Nesbitt fan, and Dickie is terrific. Bruton seems a little stiff at times, but as he’s supposed to be a socially awkward and shy boy, so it fits—and may actually have been what he was going for.
The one detractor I see for this movie, for American audiences at least, is the accents. I had no trouble, but I’m kind of a fan of British television. I only mention this in the wake of online complaints I saw about THE WITCH (2015), that some people found it hard to follow the dialogue. The Scots and Irish accents run fairly thick, and this is the kind of film where if you’re not paying attention—or having trouble following the conversation—you may miss something important.
The story is good, the writing is good, the performances are good, and the creature (played by 7’1” Ian Whyte), though somewhat werewolfy, is notably not a werewolf. The Shudder description refers to OUTCAST as “an underseen UK chiller,” and I agree. OUTCAST is a dark folk tale set in the modern age, with everything you’d expect from such, and if you’re a fan of horror, or monster movies, or just of films in general, this is one not to miss.
Now, back to that great unanswered question: how can I keep these undies from riding up on me?
If you’ve got a film you’d like to shout out about, a monster movie you feel the world’s just got to see, please, let me know about it in the comments below—or if you’re shy, you can always shoot me a line through the Contact Us page.
I’d love to hear from you.
I do love me some monster movies.
© Copyright 2017 by Rob Smales