A horror movie with bite…
Most people, when they think of Edinburgh, they think of the Castle; dark and brooding, glowering down at the city from atop a volcanic plug. They think of the Festival; students putting on a show, comics looking for their big TV break, slow-moving tourists wandering along Princes Street. They think of Trainspotting’s eloquent junkies, Miss Jean Brodie’s genteel fascism. But there’s another Edinburgh, a darker Edinburgh, where the ghosts of Deacon Brodie and the Resurrection Men, Burke and Hare, still walk the cobbles searching for fresh victims and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde haunt the imagination. A world of the occult, of ghosts and faeries, of the supernatural. A world where a single mum is inspired to sit in a café and pen a story about a boy wizard’s school days. Tapping into this darkness and magic is Scottish horror movie Outcast.
A mysterious pair of Irish travellers, mother and son Mary and Fergal (Kate Dickie and Niall Bruton), on the run from their past, settle into ghetto life on one of Edinburgh's less salubrious high-rise estates. They’re quiet, keep themselves to themselves, don’t attract much attention. But there’s something a little strange about them. Maybe it’s the unsettling closeness of their relationship. Or maybe it’s Mary’s taste in décor: stripping naked to daub magical symbols on the walls in her own blood. Or the curse she puts on the local Housing Officer. Steeped in dark magic and bloody ritual, they are exiles of an ancient Celtic tribe of sorcerors. When Fergal catches the eye of ballsy local beauty and literal girl next door, Petronella (the excellent Hanna Stanbridge), romance blossoms despite the warnings of the creepily over-protective Mary. But something has followed Mary and Fergal, something evil, something that hunts by night, tearing the locals to pieces, (Doctor Who's new assistant Amy Pond, Karen Gillan, among them). And two menacing strangers, Liam and Cathal (Ciaran McMenamin and James Nesbitt), are closing in on Mary and Fergal...
While it doesn't make a lick of sense and Kate Dickie’s accent is as dodgy as her nudie witch-dancing, Outcast is a ferocious little horror movie, a dark adult fairytale where the deep, dark woods the beast is stalking is our modern urban wasteland. Drawing on the rich mythology of Gaelic folklore, particularly the legends of the Sidhe (Ireland’s faerie folk), director/co-writer Colm McCarthy has fashioned an occult fantasy grounded in the social realism of modern ‘Broken Britain’. The bleak, decaying housing estates and insular camp-sites the characters move through are desperate, foreboding environments inhabited by the marginalised outcasts of society; the local hoodies as much of a threat as the witches and shape-changing werewolf-like creatures that drive the film. By never revealing too much or handing the audience easy explanations, McCarthy succeeds in creating a mystical world that feels real, where magic and the supernatural are an integral, everyday aspect of the character’s lives, where the fantastic can coexist with the gritty and the squalid.
Professional leprechaun James Nesbitt is positively unhinged as bad guy Cathal, the werewolf hunter who's hairier than the beastie he's after. For too long the bland cheeky chappy of Sunday night telly and commercials, Nesbitt delivers an instinctive, feral performance of brutal intensity. Burning with the white heat of psychosis, drunk on booze and magic, Nesbitt is an implacable force of vengeance, consumed by bitterness and his perverted desires for knowledge and power. Dodgy Oirish accent aside, Kate Dickie’s Mary is equally intense; her flinty, over-protective mother a study in controlled ruthlessness and quiet insanity. While Niall Bruton is likeable as Fergal and there’s a pleasingly queasy incestuous undertone to his mother/son relationship with Dickie’s Mary, it’s newcomer Hanna Stanbridge who impresses most as the gorgeous and feisty Petronella, a damsel who's perfectly capable of saving herself. Strong and sexy, Stanbridge’s performance is confident and natural, her exotic beauty intensified by her unforced earthiness.
Like all the best fairytales, a dark undercurrent of eroticism runs through Outcast. Sex and sensuality drive the story; Fergal's desire for Petronella quite literally bringing out the beast in him and their scenes are suffused with the naïve longings of young love while the scenes between Cathal and Mary have an aggressive carnality, love poisoned by bitterness, hate and regret, their final confrontation the ultimate consummation of their twisted relationship.
Moodily shot with a mounting atmosphere of dread, Outcast is a rarity in modern British cinema; a dark, melancholic little movie that's actually genuinely twisted and unsettling. Probably the best British horror movie since Neil Marshall's The Descent (and that was five years ago), its bold, ambitious and refreshingly downbeat.
The British film industry (and British audiences) needs more films like Outcast.
We won't get them though.
We'll get unwatchable middle-class, Middle England drivel like Made in Dagenham.
Colm McCarthy, Tom McCarthy
Hanna Stanbridge, James Nesbitt, Kate Dickie, Niall Bruton, Ciaran McMenamin, James Cosmo
Colm McCarthy, Tom McCarthy