Exercise the Demons! - Outcast (TV Review)

Over a decade ago, Robert Kirkman had a thought. In a zombie movie, once all is said and done, what happens to those who have survived? They are, after all, still living in the Apocalypse. Even if they do kill all the zombies, find a cure, or whatever, they still have to live in the tattered remains of humanity. Now he brings to TV his vision of what happens to a victim of demonic possession after they have been cured. What happens to a person’s soul when they have had to share it with a toxic, corrosive presence? Are they the same? Or are they forever changed?

Patrick Fugit plays Kyle Barnes, a man with a long and wretched history when it comes to possession. His mother used to beat him when he was a child, and he has been exiled from his home for doing the same to his family. Was it him or his literal demons? Upon finding out that there is a young boy going through the same inner turmoil as him, he is reluctantly drawn to the side of the Reverend Anderson, played by Philip Glenister.

Anderson carries with him at all times a box of Satan’s biggest allergies. He recognises that there is an infestation problem in Rome, West Virginia, and that the fumigation needs to target not the outhouse, but the soul. Such is his belief in the threat, that he has sacrificed his home life to cleanse the South of supernatural activity.

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From what we’ve been allowed to see of the series, these two begin a crusade against the darkness surrounding their town, travelling wherever they are needed to help righteous spirits evict their wicked tenants. What we haven’t been allowed to see is if any of this actually ties in with Christianity. I have a feeling that the Reverend is going to be in for a shock to find out that these creatures are atheists.

Even if they do turn out to be the traditional kind of antediluvian horrors, Outcast still provides a fresh take on an aging trope. The exorcisms aren’t treated as one then done deals. Each case is different, creating a more complex vision of possession, one with everlasting effects and consequences. The bleakness with which Kirkman and pilot director Adam Wingard present their world is uncompromising. There may never be any respite for some of these characters, in this world or the next.

Even if they do find redemption, the memories of their devilish deeds will haunt them. Murder, beatings, self-mutilation; there is no act of depravity that their unwelcome guests are not gleefully capable of. Outcast goes to some harrowing places. In the first episode alone there is some shocking they-surly-won’t-OH-MY-GOD-THEY-SO-TOTALLY-ARE kind of violence that sets the tone for the mayhem to come. Not since the kid getting eaten by the shark in Jaws does a show give you a no-holds-barred vibe. There is literally nowhere this series is scared to go by the looks of things.

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The bleak themes are matched by their surroundings. Rome is a poverty stricken town in Middle America with weather to match the dour mood. Most characters on television have two cars in every garage and a chicken in every pot. These guys can hardly get one car onto every street. The sets look like they’ve never been more than twenty minutes away from a downpour. Mud, dirt, and the rotting bark of trees cover the landscape. The grime in Outcast almost has a repulsive tactility to it. The sets all have a history and none of them look happy.

Pat and Phil are ably supported by a cast that add context to their adventures. It’s them that remind us that the world is bigger than the two lead’s hunt for demons. They create the show’s larger universe and help remind us that people can be demons themselves and often worse than their mythical counterparts.

Rober Kirkman has once again used the most uncanny monsters of our imaginations to create horrific and harrowing parodies of humanity. The Walking Dead used them to remind us that the real monster is man. Outcast uses them to remind us how weak we are to the seductions of the chaotic and the corrupt. I don’t know if this will strike the same chord with audiences and latch on to their imaginations like TWD so ably did, but if anyone can create that kind of iconic modern horror twice, Kirkman might.

4/5

Creator: Robert Kirkman

Dir: Adam Wingard

Cast: Wrenn Schmidt, Patrick Fugit, Philip Glenister, Brent Spiner, Reg E. Cathey, Kate Lyn Sheil

Prd: Pavlina Hatoupis, Barbara D’Alessandro

DOP: Evans Brown

Music: Atticus Ross

Country: USA

Year: 2016

Runtime: 60 Minutes/ep

Outcast premieres on Fox from Tuesday 7th of June at 10:00pm