Director – Colm McCarthy, Screenplay – Colm McCarthy & Tom K. McCarthy, Producers – Eddie Dick, Brendan McCarthy & John McDonnell, Photography – Darran Tiernan, Music – Giles Packham, Visual Effects – Windmill Lane, Special Effects – Elements Special Effects (Supervisors – Johnny Rafique & Nick Rideout), Makeup Design – Niamh Morrison, Makeup Effects Design – Paul Hyatt, Prosthetic Supervisor – Patrick Conran, Production Design – Tom Sayer. Production Company – Fantastic Films/Makar Productions/Bord Scannan na Heireann (The Irish Film Board)/Scottish Screen/Head Gear/Metrol Technology
James Nesbitt (Cathal), Kate Dickie (Mary), Niall Bruton (Fergal), Hannah Stanbridge (Petronella), Ciaran McMenamin (Liam), Josh Whitelaw (Tomatsk), Andrew Martin (James), James Cosmo (Laird), Christine Tremarco (Housing Officer), Karen Gillan (Ally), Ian Whyte (Beast), Therese Bradley (Jitta), Sean McCarthy (Old Hands)
Mary and her teenage son Fergal take an apartment on a rundown Edinburgh council estate. She burns their van to hide their path and paints protective runes around the walls of the apartment. Following them is Fergal’s father Cathal who is given a series of tattoos that grant him powers to hunt them. He and his guide Liam apply for permission from the laird of Edinburgh to conduct a hunt on his territory. Meanwhile, Fergal has befriended the neighbouring girl Petronella and the two are drawn together despite Mary’s dire warnings about what might happen. Fergal was born from an illicit union between Mary and Cathal and because of this Cathal seeks to exterminate him. Cathal employs various forms of magic to track Mary’s whereabouts while she employs similar methods to hide their presence from him. At the same time, Fergal lives with the fear that a beast might be hunting him. Such a beast suddenly begins to appear at night and kill people in the streets.
Outcast was a complete unknown before I sat down to watch it. It is an Irish-Scottish co-production and a feature-length debut for Scottish director Colm McCarthy, who had previously worked on numerous British television series, including episodes of Spooks (2002-11), Doctor Who (2005– ) and The Tudors (2007-10), among others. Colm McCarthy co-writes with his brother Tom.
Sitting down to watch Outcast with no prior expectations, I quickly began to get into its cryptic suggestions of dark and magical things happening. In the opening scenes, James Nesbitt is seen getting ritual tattoos all over his back. He and Ciaran McMenamin then go to the local laird (James Cosmo) and ask permission to have a hunt on his territory where the reply is in the affirmative but for the refusal of the power of ‘Consulting.– In the midst of this, Nesbitt is rebuffed by James Cosmo with fascinatingly cryptic comments “I’ve spoken to the dead and they don’t want him in their domain”, or throwaway comments about Nesbitt saying he needs to have a drink to calm his nerves because his ‘new skin– is restless for the hunt. In other scenes, Kate Dickie burns their van so they can’t be followed, saying “the trail ends here” and then strips naked and paints the walls of their new apartment in runes; or where she suddenly turns on Fergal (Niall Bruton) after he has been out with Hannah Stanbridge, telling him she can smell the need on him and next we see he in his bedroom naked, masturbating and passing through the wall as the sleeping Hannah Stanbridge seems to pick up on his presence and become aroused. In another scene, the apartment is unable to be found by an officious social worker (Christine Tremarco) because the runes have hidden its entire existence – later Kate Dickie turns on Tremarco and curses her to wander until the end of her days, whereupon she immediately becomes disoriented and starts stumbling through the streets. We see other fascinating pieces of magic such as James Nesbitt tracking their whereabouts by gutting a bird at sunset and letting its fallen blood point in their direction, or where he and Kate Dickie create candles that allow them to conduct a mental battle of wills from a distance. There is another fascinating scene where James Nesbitt finally does his Consulting and awakens a corpse in the morgue in order to get it to direct the way to the apartment.
The use of arcane and cryptic magic reminds of the writing of Clive Barker. Mostly it results in a fascinatingly complex new form of magic quite unlike anything we have seen on screen before – perhaps the nearest comparison you might point to is the film Warlock (1989). The script deliberately withholds what is happening, why Kate Dickie and Niall Bruton are fleeing, who the beast is (or even whether it exists) for much of the story so that we are focused on the cryptic rituals. We don’t even know what the characters are fighting about/fleeing from until towards the end. The final emergence of the beast at the end is an entirely freakish piece of makeup where the actor has been outfitted with appliances that turns his limbs into long weird angular shapes of misshapen bone that results in something entirely unlike any other monster one has seen in a genre film in some time.
It all makes for one of the most fascinatingly original genre works that one has seen in some time. The entire film has been shot in Edinburgh but visits no tourist postcard parts of the city, instead being filmed on the rundown council estates, which make for a grimly realistic location. Welcomely the film makes no compromise for those not willing to keep up with the barrage of often incomprehensible Scots English and local street argot.
The film is made up of mostly unknown faces. These contain some surprisingly good performances, particularly Hannah Stanbridge who provides freshness and sparkle. One of the biggest surprises is Karen Gillan, shortly before becoming an international fanboy pin-up sensation on Doctor Who (2005– ). Here she plays the part of Hannah Stanbridge’s aunt who becomes a victim of the beast early in the show. The surprise in watching Outcast after watching Doctor Who is seeing her playing with natural Scots accent and in a much more harshly down to Earth environment. There are fine performances from known faces like James Nesbitt, Kate Dickie, who made an extraordinary appearance in the Scottish film Red Road (2006), and James Cosmo. The only face to let the shown down is Niall Bruton who is inexpressive in the central role of the hunted teenager.
Colm McCarthy subsequently went on to make the zombie film The Girls With All the Gifts (2016).