I've been a horror fan for half of my life. My comfort films include John Carpenter's The Thing and Dawn of the Dead; they're just the thing to perk me up after an especially rotten day. I wrote my thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films.
But, for all of my love of monsters, specters, and the undead of every kind, I do have an Achilles heel. That one subgenre of horror that I avoid like the plague, that I hesitate to come within even ten feet of.
I don't do demonic possession stories.
But when Robert Kirkman—creator of The Walking Dead, a comic series I followed faithfully from Day One until very, very recently, the man behind the TV adaptation that I've passionately fangirled over—decided to tackle demonology in his newest project…
Fears are meant to be faced, aren't they?
Still, I won't deny it: I watched this premiere with my eyes half-shut. This may not have been the smoothest way to break the hold demonic stories have over me.
Outcast comes out of the gates swinging. This isn't a series that wastes time easing you into the narrative in a comfortable manner.
Nope. Straightaway, we have a young boy eating roaches, smashing his head against the wall, and taking the idea of “finger food” a wee bit too literally. Seems little Joshua (Gabriel Bateman) is only the latest in a long string of paranormal outbursts in the small town of Rome, West Virginia.
Outbursts that trace back to Kyle Barnes (Patrick Fugit), our central protagonist in the unfolding horror. During his own childhood, Kyle was brutalized by his mother. Not because she wanted to, and not because she was “sick” as so many of the townsfolk—including Kyle's sister Megan (Wrenn Schmidt)—believe, but because she was possessed.
Kyle is still scarred by his past experiences, which didn't stop with his mother. Just when it seemed like things had turned around for him, his happy marriage crumbled when his wife, Allison (Kate Lyn Sheil), also fell under demonic influences.
We've yet to see exactly what all unfolded, but we know that Kyle stopped Allison from killing their own daughter, Amber, and that somehow, in that chaotic day, he assumed the blame for what happened. Megan tells her disapproving policeman husband, Mark (David Denman), that Kyle's “paid for what happened,” and we know he's only recently come back to his hometown, forbidden any contact with his daughter.
Is it any wonder that the poor guy's been living in squalor in the childhood home that still retains all of the marks of his troubled past? That his sister has to practically drag him back out into the world, and that his neighbor, Norville (Willie C. Carpenter), is essentially his only friend?
Well, his only friend until he hears about Joshua's situation being similar to his mother's and he finds himself reconnecting with Reverend Anderson (Philip Glenister).
Kyle and the Reverend have history together, thanks to his mother; the Reverend may be the only other person in the world who truly understand what Kyle went through and believes him when he says something supernatural drove his mother to her abusive acts.
The pair square off against the force controlling Joshua, and in the end, it isn't the Reverend's faith, cross, or holy water that prove effective—it's Kyle. He explains that he somehow broke the demonic hold over his mother when he fought back, that something about his very touch was painful to her.
What follows is hard to watch: a grown man beating up a small child. Though given the unnatural bodily contortions—ugh, that's something that will always disturb the hell out of me—the afflicted boy has been through, and the bloody violence he's already unleashed upon his mother and the Reverend, I suppose it's a situation of spare the rod and spoil the demon.
When Joshua tastes Kyle's blood, he spews out an evil black sludge and is once again a normal boy. Clearly, there's a supernatural quality to Kyle himself; already the question arises—is there something inherently holy about our hero? Is the same quality that draws demonic creatures to him capable of dispelling them forever?
What's unquestionable for now is that Outcast is going to turn the tension dial fully up to eleven every week. I foresee plenty of mangled bodies, garbled voices, and blood splattering our way. With every scene already dripping—sometimes literally—with atmosphere, this is a southern gothic where very little will probably be taboo.
At least we seem to be in capable hands: Patrick Fugit is an actor that you want to like and root for, with his expressive eyes and quiet manner. His performance in this premiere is poignant and troubled, and you fully believe this is a man who's been through hell and back.
Philip Glenister is best known for playing brash, confident characters, like Gene Hunt in Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes; his Reverend Anderson promises to be cut of a somewhat different cloth, but the English actor absolutely has the chops to carry a Southern fire-and-brimstone preacher-turned-demon hunter.
With evocative music by the Oscar-winning Atticus Ross and Kirkman writing most of the screenplays, this promises to be a faithful adaptation of the acclaimed comic. Kirkman has also said he has a clear ending in sight for these characters, so I have high hopes for continued quality.
The premiere ends with Kyle—battered and narrowly escaping jail time for his necessary actions—staring up at the moon and quietly drawing a line in the sand: “Come and get me.” Looks like he's done running from his past and is ready to kick some serious demonic ass, a choice that's plenty heroic.
I'm definitely going to keep watching. I'll just probably do it from between my fingers.
Angie Barry wrote her thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films. Meeting George Romero is high on her bucket list, and she has spent hours putting together her zombie apocalypse survival plan. She also writes horror and fantasy in her spare time, and watches far too much Doctor Who. Come find the angie bee at Tumblr.