Well, first and foremost, Cinemax’s new series Outcast has done the impossible. It made Patrick Fugit look like a grown man. Ever the baby face Fugit, for once, has the look of a grizzled and hardened adult. Now it might seem frivolous or unnecessary that I mention this but there is a reason. As the lead of the series, the linchpin of the show, if Fugit wasn’t able to sell his story to us everything else would be moot.
Outcast is the newest foray by Cinemax into legitimate television. Based on the comic series by Robert Kirkman (creator of The Walking Dead), the series focuses on a young man named Kyle Barnes who has had repeated interactions with the possessed throughout his life.
Now I am a gigantic comic fan, but this time round I actually chose to go into this one completely unprepared. When I heard the series was coming out I briefly considered picking up the comic so I could compare and contrast the two. Then I decided that it would be more fun to dive into this blind and let the series speak for itself.
I found myself thinking of several other films dealing with demonic possession during the course of the first episode. The opening had these odd upside-down and sideways helicopter shots of cityscapes that reminded me of the film Devil. Then several scenes of exorcism of course had shades of The Exorcist. It wasn’t simply the exorcism itself but something about the blocking and staging that just had this familiar feel to the classic film.
Speaking of the blocking, this show has direction and production value in spades. Such cinematic shots and fantastic, yet subtle, movement in the frame. I hope dearly that the entire season is as well put together technically as this pilot is. One simple shot through a doorway had this great isolated feel with just the slowest pull out on camera. Also there is something amazingly beautiful while disturbing in many of these scenes. Drawing your eye into terrible things making you lock in even more with the story.
Yes, disturbing is definitely a running theme in Outcast. I can’t remember a television series making me cringe so much in a single episode. Bug eating, a child smearing blood against a wall with their forehead, and then the same child ripping a chunk of their own finger off like so much beef jerky. The sound design and the brevity of these shots add to the atmosphere and our uneasy feelings throughout.
Another element the production just nails is the set design. So often when a series is showing poor neighborhoods, old towns, you know those places that still have the same kitchens from the seventies, they just come off as either too clean or not the right style. The rundown look of the town and Kyle’s home has the style down perfect. Wood paneling, terrible cabinets, all the tell tale signs are there. You can tell they made atmosphere a priority and it paid off. Oh and the kid they got to play young Kyle? A dead ringer for Patrick Fugit. A small thing but I always hate when the young version of a character bears zero resemblance to their older self.
So that’s a lot of gushing and praise heaping, but the show is not without its drawbacks. At times the acting reaches some really over the top melodramatic levels. This is especially rough in some of the exorcism stuff. The Exorcist has become such a cultural touchstone that the “traditional” approach to exorcisms come off a bit hacky to a modern audience. I think they overcome this for the most part, but it will be interesting to see if they can keep it from becoming ridiculous.
The only other real issue I had with the pilot was probably more my own fault rather than the show. Two supporting characters are played by actors with small but memorable roles from other series. House of Cards‘ Freddy and Pam’s boyfriend from The Office both have what appear to be recurring roles. The actors do a fine job but something about them just seems off for these parts. Way too early to tell for sure but they felt the least natural in the pilot episode.
The pilot did a great job setting up some direction for the series while still laying the groundwork for several mysteries. Why was Kyle blamed for his daughter’s injuries? How does his blood and tears ward off demons? Will he continue punching children in the face? There are so many directions the series can take from here it will be exciting to see what path they choose.
I am all in to find out and I strongly recommend any horror fans out there to give this one a shot. From the great production values and strong writing alone this would be worthwhile to watch. Add to that a subject matter that hasn’t been picked over to death by television … yet. Outcast has one of the strongest starts to a new series I can remember.
Cinemax has made this episode free to watch on YouTube, so no excuses! Give it a shot!
Are you looking forward to more Outcast? Tell us in the comments section below!