I’m going to preface this review by stating that, like many of you, I am a huge fan of foreign horror flicks. I find that, in many cases, the most original and ballsy films come from outside of the US. Maybe it’s because Hollywood seems too interested in retreads, remakes, and sequels these days to plunk down some coin to try something new, but that’s a topic for another day… The main reason I bring up the subject is because Outcast is great example of originality, and I applaud the filmmakers for trying something new; even if it is an uneven film in many respects.
This Scottish-made film comes to us from Director Colm McCarthy, and the story focuses on a young woman named Patronella, who meets a mysterious drifter named Fergal. Despite all of their troubles, and Patronella’s caring for her mentally disabled brother, the two begin to forge a romance and fall in love. However, it seems that fate is set to tear them apart, because just as things are picking up between them, a strange beast begins killing off people that they come in contact with. It also appears that Fergal may have some major issues of his own to deal with, as two men with strange magical powers are traveling the countryside looking for him. Ultimately, the question arises as to whether they are hunting Fergal, or are they trying to protect him from the beast that is on the loose?
The real originality of Outcast comes in its use of magic throughout the story. We’ve seen the troubled-love and creature subplots in many other films, but I don’t think that many of them have featured protagonists and antagonists who are capable of casting spells because of the tattoos that cover their bodies. This premise is quite interesting, but unfortunately, it also over-complicates things, making the film confusing at times. You see, not only is the viewer trying to follow the story between the young lovers, but they also must try to figure out how the monster fits in and decipher the reasoning as to why these people have magic powers. In some ways, the magic in the film almost seems like an extraneous element, however, in the end it is actually vital to the plot.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one who believes that an audience should be spoonfed ideas or have everything explained to them in simple terms, but Outcast‘s story is quite frankly hard to follow at times. In the end, I am confident that McCarthy knew where he was taking things, but the problem is that while I was watching the film, it sometimes felt like it was jumping from subplot to subplot. This made it hard to really understand what was going on – and more importantly, why it was happening – during a good chunk of the movie. In the end, things do come together, but I couldn’t help but feel like it just would have been more satisfying had their been fewer distractions along the way.
I also should probably mention that some of my difficulty following along may have been due to the accents of the cast. There are a diverse mix of nationalities on display here (Scottish, Irish, etc), and a good deal of the cast speak with some very thick accents. In fact, I found that I needed to leave the subtitle track on while watching the movie to ensure that I understood what they were saying. Now, this isn’t the first English-language film that I’ve had this problem with (Doghouse posed a similar problem the first time I watched it), and I really can’t fault the film for it since it was made in a region where those dialects are the norm. I just thought I would mention it because it was often hard for me to ignore; especially at first.
However, despite the over-complicated plot and thick accents, I was not soured on the film. In fact, there are a lot of great things that Outcast brings to the table. In addition to being highly original, the film also has some good performances, decent effects, and a great score. This combination leads to some genuinely dark moments, and while the film is never outright horrific, it still carries quite a bit of suspense throughout most of its running time. Despite the fact that I had trouble with some things, I still enjoyed the movie, and I was genuinely interested to see where things ended up. Luckily, I like where McCarthy took things, and I felt like the conclusion was worth the wait.
I also liked that, unlike many other films that feature content of a fantastical nature, Outcast‘s world was far from polished. In other words, there was nothing whimsical about it. The buildings were rundown and crumbling, and everything was dirty and in disarray. This was a world where the majority of the people were lower-class, and hope was something that was all but extinct. Bleak and unforgiving, the brightest elements seemed to come from fires that were almost continually burning; and even their colors were washed out.
As for the quality of the DVD, I have to say that I was very impressed with the image quality of Momentum’s release. While the film is certainly not much of a visual spectacle, and it can be overly dark in spots, the transfer here is definitely top-notch. It may not be Blu-ray quality, but when played back and upscaled to 1080p, it’s pretty darn close. The blacks are solid, and there was very little digital artifacting to be found. The audio track was also very impressive. Though the film is very quiet and dialog-driven in many parts, the action scenes were loud and clear and there was a decent amount of surround activity going on.
However, while the disc looked and sounded about as good as I imagine the film ever has, it was also devoid of any extras. Aside from some trailers that precede the film, all we get is a subtitle track (which came in handy for me) and the usual scene selection menus. To be honest, I would have liked to at least hear a Director’s Commentary, as it may have cleared things up for me and helped me understand some of the decisions that were made in the storytelling.
In summation, Outcast is an original film that falls victim to its own creativity. While it is far from being a bad film, I found it to be hard to follow at times. However, it does have something to offer, and if you stick with it, you’ll find that at least some of its promise is fulfilled. Likewise, while Momentum’s DVD offers very good picture quality and sound, it comes up short in the extras department. The good news is that it is currently priced at just over $10 US, so if you are at all intrigued by the film, you don’t have to drop a bunch of cash to check it out. It is available through many UK distributors, but you can easily find it at Amazon UK. Just be sure to keep in mind that this is indeed a Region 2 DVD and it is presented in the PAL format, so for those of you in the US, make sure that you have a DVD player that can handle both of these things before you pick it up.