One of the most interesting themes that seems to be coming to the fore in modern British horror films is that despite their contemporary urban settings, at their heart is very much a sense of the mythic, a hearkening back to the kind of folk tales that went to form much of what we now know as Celtic and other mythologies. Philip Ridley's HEARTLESS dealt with the age old tale of the Bargain With Powers With Whom One Should Never Deal, while OUTCAST goes one better, giving us a timeless story of magical powers in conflict and a beast conceived by misguided intentions that is aroused to transformation by Sex and Blood. The movie takes place on an Edinburgh council housing estate but it could just as easily be set anywhere and at any time during Britain's history. In fact as I watched it I wondered just how outright terrifying the film might have been if it had been set during the Middle Ages, with no electricity, grim weather, and an overwhelming all-pervading sense of the superstitious adding to the all too real terrors. The urban setting works well though, and serves as a reminder that tower blocks are really no different from a little huddle of medieval huts around a campfire. In fact perhaps to drive the point home we even get an ‘urban campfire’ scene early on in the proceedings that serves as a centre point for a teenagers’ get together.
Mary (Kate Dickie) arrives with teenaged son Fergal (Niall Bruton) in Edinburgh, moves into the scabbiest, grimmest looking flat on an estate where the sun never shines, and immediately starts painting mystic symbols on the walls in her own blood. Pretty soon we find out why as we're introduced to Cathal (James Nesbitt in a fine angry scary form) who has been selected to pursue her and her son from Ireland. He's been given special powers to enable him to detect and destroy them but needs the assistance of Liam (Ciaran McMenamin) and permission from the Laird (James Cosmo - a nice touch) to enable him to carry out his task. Fergal meets nice girl Petronella (Hannah Stanbridge) and they embark on the kind of ultimately doomed romance dark myth has thrived on since forever. There’s also a monster on the prowl and as the bodies begin to pile up and Nesbitt gets ever closer the stage is set for the final showdown.
I enjoyed OUTCAST far more than I was expecting to. Dickie and Nesbitt are fine and well matched as the magicians from the old country, and Bruton and Stanbridge are engaging and likeable enough to engage audience sympathy. The council estate backdrop works well at being just that and director Colm McCarthy is wise not to rub his squalid urban setting in our faces too much, instead concentrating on the timelessness of his story and taking the time to include elements that continually catch the attention (the use of birds as sacrifices, the cockroach candle, the use of a blooded knife) all of which add up to a fine little modern British horror picture that, along with certain other recent efforts like PANIC BUTTON and KILL LIST has actually made me quite optimistic for the state of the BritHorror of today. Hurrah!