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Quiet Earth Review of Outcast

Year: 2009
Directors: Colm McCarthy
Writers: Colm McCarthy / Tom McCarthy
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: rochefort
Rating: 7 out of 10

Fergal (Niall Bruton) and his highly protective mother Mary (Kate Dickie) are constantly on the run, moving from one low-rent U.K. estate to the next, all while being hunted by the ruthless Cathal (James Nesbitt). They're all practicers of witchcraft, Mary using her arcane skills to throw the hunters off the trail, Cathal single-mindedly driven to find them both in the hopes of achieving a higher degree of warlock's power. As Cathal gets closer by the day, Fergal becomes involved with Petronella (Hanna Stanbridge), an earthy projects girl who falls for him immediately. But their young love is threatened not only by Cathal's imminent arrival and Mary's harsh resistance to an unstable female presence in Fergal's life, but also by the strange creature that has appeared in the estate and begun murdering people in the night.

"Outcast" pretty much came out of nowhere and won me over quickly with its dark, moody mix of seedy urban angst and modern-day witchcraft. Think of this as a fringe benefit of the success of the "Harry Potter" series, this one decidedly more for the over-18 set. If you're at all a fan of U.K.-set "Estate" movies (including everything from "Trainspotting", to Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere", to the "Misfits" tv series, up to the recent "Harry Brown"), then you already know the atmosphere on display, and "Outcast" opts for the dingiest possible depths, using grainy sepia night photography, back-alley griminess, and sparse, apocalyptic set design to excellent effect. The plot unfurls at a reasonable pace but doesn't really drag, and tells essentially three stories: The first concerns Mary and Fergal's ongoing struggle to keep moving without being discovered by the coven they've abandoned for mysterious reasons; the second deals with Fergal's rapidly encroaching puberty and the dangers that Mary believes will accompany his passage into manhood; and the third focuses on Cathal, himself an apparent example of a mature warlock's worst case scenario.

Bruton and Dickie make a convincingly creepy mother and son, their scenes imbued with a discomforting sexual underpinning made all the creepier by the clever way the script slowly and casually dispenses clues as to the true nature of their relationship. Petronella is eye-poppingly cute and feisty, and her portrayal initially comes across as the standard dead-end projects girl, but she finds moments here and there that inject an unexpected vulnerability, and in the end it's easy to believe that Fergal would risk so much to be with her. But it's Nesbitt's villain Cathal that steals the show. Nesbitt as the bad guy is just an easy win; he's got a one of a kind screen presence and owns no matter if he's playing sympathetic ("Bloody Sunday") or dark ("Five Minutes of Heaven"). Here he's playing extremely dark, his Cathal a mixture of sweaty desperation and malevolent treachery.

Key scenes with both hunter and hunted show the step-by-step procedure of their magic, each full of nice little details about how this or that spell is cast or protective glamour is achieved. This is the real bread and butter of the pic, and the filmmakers know that if you're going to tell a story about witches and warlocks, there had better be witchcraft, dammit, and on this front "Outcast" consistently delivers. There's nary a black hood or shiny pagan broadsword in sight, either, the emphasis throughout on "household" magic (albeit of a kind that seems to require the user always be naked) rather than pyrotechnics or multicolored lazer beams. The only real overtly fantastic element is in the "beast" that haunts the estate, and this may be a letdown for some, but I found it enjoyable both in its execution and as the final answer of the puzzle.

A festival gem if ever there was one, "Outcast" probably won't prove to be much more than a modest success, so it's likely you'll have to work a little to track this one down. There's not enough spectacle on display to attract a stateside theatrical run, and the consistently (even oppressively) dark tone will probably relegate it to a straight-to-disc release, hopefully by the likes of somebody like Anchor Bay, who would at least know how to treat this one with the respect it deserves. It's beyond ironic that the majority of magic- and witchcraft-themed movies in this day and age are targeted to families and the 'tween market, so "Outcast" is weird in that it's almost a basic return to form, a film about the dark stuff that's meant for adults. Uneven in places and definitely not perfect, but done well enough to make you wish more filmmakers would follow its lead.