Cast: Patrick Fugit, Philip Glenister, Wrenn Schmidt, David Denman, Reg E. Cathey
Director: Adam Wingard
Matt C: Lightening rarely if ever strikes twice and so The Walking Dead’s phenomenal success as, initially, a comic book series and then a record-breaking TV adaptation is unlikely to be replicated, but that success has undoubtedly opened the doors for further comic adaptations, the latest being another entry by Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman. Kirkman was crafting engaging tales prior to striking gold with a zombie apocalypse so he’s certainly not a one-hit wonder in the world of comics, but can another one of his stories make the jump to television sets across the globe and retain the elements that made the source material appealing in the first place? One episode in and Outcast makes a strong case to suggest that it can, perhaps not to the ratings-busting level of its predecessor, but maybe in a more preferable, nuanced, compelling manner, with the horror elements bolstered by a soulful exploration of the human condition.
There are strange happenings occurring in the small-town community of Rome, West Virginia, and Reverend Anderson (Glenister) appears to be the only person equipped to deal with what appears to be cases of demonic possession. He is about to receive some assistance though, but it may not be quite what he’s expecting. Kyle Barnes (Fugit) has returned to town after a period away under a dark cloud; he now locks himself in his family home, which is full of bad memories, but his past experiences seem to make him best suited to tackle the encroaching wave of mysterious evil.
Directed with slow-burning skill by Adam Wingard (The Guest, You’re Next), this debut instalment is a highly accomplished piece of atmospheric horror that unnerves with the bursts of freakish moments and a palpable, pressurized tension that permeates throughout. It’s weighted by a variety of strong performances, the most prominent of those from Fugit (who last made a substantial impression as the kid from Almost Famous), who plays Barnes as someone carrying with him an air of near suffocating melancholy wherever he goes. Terrible things have happened to him during his life and only now is he beginning to understand why. Glenister is the main support as Anderson, a man who can barely believe what he’s seeing but who is determined to fight it head on, using his faith as his crutch. There’s an unfussy naturalism in evidence that ensures the dynamic between the various cast members remains believable and engaging.
It’s impossible to tackle the subject of demonic possession and escape the shadow of The Exorcist, such is that film’s power and influence, and Wingard and Kirkman wisely don’t shy away from various familiar tropes, often playing directly into some of the iconography, but those who’ve read the comic series will know that this isn’t simply a rehash of a well-told story, and those who’ve not can rest assured that the seeds for a longer storyline have been planted here. While the characters are dealing with literal demons in this show, the key to its success is the emphasis it places on how they deal with the metaphorical demons that they try and hide from those around them, but can never quite escape. 8/10