Cinemax’s Outcast has quickly become one of my must-see shows. It is so scary and gritty and dark that it feels like one of those shows that I suggest to everyone, and yet, I write this recommendation with one huge caveat: it is not for everyone.
I was initially drawn to the show because I love horror–it is my favorite genre. Demonic possession stories are always the most thrilling for me because they scare me the most. I can handle just about any other type of scare, but there is something about the lack of free will and consent that gets me. This show, however, is not so much scary for the demonic possession, but more so that with that possession comes violence, isolation, and violation.
Outcast is based on the comic book series of the same name by Robert Kirkman. If this sounds familiar, it should. This is the same writer and formula as The Walking Dead, so it has very strong source material. The story itself follows recluse Kyle Barnes (played by Patrick Fugit) and takes place in the fictitious town of Rome, West Virginia. Kyle had a very rough upbringing due to the fact that his mother was possessed by a demon and ended up in a coma-like state. From there, Kyle was raised by a family in town and became the adoptive brother to Megan. Although the story takes place in present-day, there are a lot of flashbacks to those horrific days, and also flashbacks that show glimpses into Kyle’s adult life. Even though Kyle grew up, his relationship with the demons who haunted his mother never left.
The story picks up with an adult Kyle who is estranged from his wife and young daughter after a domestic incident occurred that we only get bits and pieces of information about. In order to protect his family, he moves back to Rome and isolates himself from the small town. After he learns of the possible demonic possession of a young boy in town, he teams up with the local Evangelical Reverend Anderson to assist casting out the demon. Kyle and Reverend Anderson are not friends, in fact, they have very different approaches to how they deal with the possession. And this is where I will warn viewers that only those with a strong stomach and high tolerance for violence should continue with the show. Basically, if you can get past the pilot episode, you should probably be okay with the rest of the series. What makes Kyle special is the fact that his blood is basically poison to the demons, and he literally beats the crap out of those who are possessed to rid them of the demons. It is horribly violent and bloody, but when you think of it in the context of a graphic novel, it seems within the realm of possibility. Kyle is confused by his ability and reluctant to put it to use, but realizes that it appears to be the only successful way to cast out a demon.
The production itself is a bit inconsistent. Some of the performances are stellar: Patrick Fugit is great as the mopey and confused but strong Kyle. Philip Glenister as Reverend Anderson does tend to chew the scenery a bit, but I think that has to do a lot with the dichotomy of his character. Anderson wants to rid the world of evil as the Evangelical pastor, but he is consumed with his own vices of self-adulation and gratification. Of course, Brent Spiner does creepy well, and he seems to fit perfectly as the mysterious Sidney. Another standout in the cast is Wrenn Schmidt, who plays Kyle’s adoptive sister, Megan. The relationship that she has with Kyle is very unusual, but it is clear that she is one of the only people in his life that cares about his well-being. The supporting cast, including Scott Porter and Grace Zabriskie, generally does a superb job.
I do like the use of the varying camera angles and unusual cinematography employed by the show because sometimes the story is a bit confusing, but it holds my interest visually. The use of mirrors is sometimes a neat trick used by directors for a deeper meaning, and here it works even better. Seemingly the point of the show is to say that humans and demons have a dichotomy held within in each other; neither is always good or evil, and sometimes we allow things that just feel good to cloud our judgment. Cinemax shows are generally notorious for being dark and edgy (see The Knick), so this show has a certain level of intentional discomfort that is hard to ignore. The music only contributes to that discomfort through its use of heavy and deep bass; sometimes we only hear that deep pounding in the background instead of actual melodies. It creates that unsettled feeling as though you are watching something that you shouldn’t be.
One complaint that I have about the television adaptation is that the pacing sometimes leaves a lot to be desired. It can get very slow at times. I think a big part of the pacing issue comes from the fact that there are so few issues of the comic book, so instead of filling in too many of the gaps, the showrunners and writers have simply to chosen to tell the story at a slower pace. This can be a bit frustrating at times, but it does give you time to explore the what-ifs within the universe. I should note that the series has already been picked up for a second season by Cinemax.
Here is what I will say: if you enjoy horror and don’t mind dramatized violence, you should probably give this show a try. If you survive the pilot and it doesn’t freak you out, then you will likely love the rest of the series. But be warned: this show is tough to swallow and it does not hold back, even graphically depicting violence against women and children. Watch – and enjoy – at your own risk.
Erin has reviewed many shows over the years including Orphan Black, iZombie, Penny Dreadful, and Killing Eve. She has a keen eye for on-screen chemistry, and loves to tackle the subject of casting. She is also our horror aficionado. She live tweets shows, and loves to share her feelings. Erin has a BA in History, and likes to analyze the lore behind historical fiction. She attends San Diego Comic Con every year and has also attended C2E2 and WonderCon.
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