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Movie Review: Outcast

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Outcast is one of those films that takes a usually down-to-earth setting, in this case Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh, and makes it feel like it is somewhere completely different, somewhere other-wordly. Although the plot is often too complex for its own good, the trip along the way is undeniably fun and rewarding.

The film has a plot that goes its own way without laying everything out to be easily understood. As a result, it’s not easy to sum up. The film starts off with a mysterious man (played by James Nesbitt) who gets a strange set of tattoos on his back. We come to learn this grants him some sort of special powers that he must use to track down some kind of monster.

We also follow a teenage boy and his mother who move into a flat in the city and appear to have some sort of link with the tattooed man. We get to know the next door neighbour of the woman and her son, one of whom (a young woman) starts to have a "forbidden" relationship with the boy.

That’s about as far as the plot can be explained without getting into spoiler territory (although even having seen the movie, I’m still having trouble working out what it was all really about). As I said, the plot is very strange and out-there, often too complicated, but it’s a fun time nonetheless.

Director Colm McCarthy (who also co-wrote the script with his brother, Tom) does a great job of creating a genuinely creepy atmosphere that really gets under your skin, maintaining an air of mystery and “What the hell’s round the next corner?” sort of fear in the viewer. Since we’re not really sure what’s going on (at least for the first two thirds), it’s a case of being scared of what we don’t know and can’t see rather than being frightened by anything actually on-screen.

The film puts a cool twist on the well-trodden horror sub-genre of the monster movie. There are certainly shades of monster films past – including The Thing, The Fly, An American Werewolf in London and Alien – but it also feels like something we haven’t quite seen before. That especially comes true when the monster is revealed. The special effects are at times very odd and quite impressive (especially considering the small budget the film had), whilst at others they’re kind of hokey. But even in the case of the latter, that’s still part of the fun.

The performances are, for the most part, very solid. James Nesbitt as the mysterious man on a hunt is particularly impressive (when is Nesbitt ever not?), bringing a gruff intensity to a role that could have been flat and one-note in the hands of a less actor. Katie Dickie is compelling as the creepily protective mother of the teenage boy, and Niall Burton is relatable and convincing as the boy, something which is all the more impressive because of his inexperience (he’s only starred in this and one other film).

The reason why I think Outcast is simply a really good movie as opposed to a fantastic one is because of the aforementioned confusing plot. It’s not so confusing that it ruins the whole movie, but it doesn’t do a good job of letting the audience know what is going on. I suppose that could be considered clever and ambiguous but it just came off as lazy to me.

Apart from the annoyingly ambiguous plot, I had a ton of fun with Outcast. It covers a lot of bases, from cult rituals and exciting monster movie antics (remember, beware of those dark alleyways at night!) to an emotional love story. It’s a testament to the filmmakers that they managed to strike such a balance of opposing extremes and make it work. Outcast is certainly one of my favourites of the EIFF 2010.

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About Ross Miller