Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Outcast: 'A Darkness Surrounds Him' Review

The second Robert Kirkman creation to be adapted for the small screen after the juggernaut Walking Dead series, got off to a solid start last night with its season premiere entitled 'A Darkness Surrounds Him'. The episode comes out of the starting gate strong with a chilling opening scene depicting possessed boy Joshua, which is anchored by a very impressive performance by the young child actor Gabriel Bateman. Bateman displays a great understanding of body language, changing his physicality just enough to seem unnatural but not exaggerating to the point where things become cartoonish. What this makes for is a very memorable performance, and a child actor who may have stolen the episode from his far more experienced adult co-stars.

Indeed, this episode does seem at its most effective during the claustrophobic nightmare-fuelling exorcism scenes, and ultimately loses its footing in the scenes between. The introduction of Patrick Fugit in the role of Kyle Barnes feels uninteresting, possibly not helped by the fact that it comes so soon after the aforementioned shocking opener. Barnes is a deeply troubled character with a horribly dark past but it feels as if Fugit perhaps doesn't have the acting chops to portray such a role, overshadowed by his co-stars in most scenes. It isn't until roughly halfway through the episode that the performance shows signs of life, when an interesting plot twist makes things even worse for the unfortunate Barnes. Fugit takes full advantage of this development, and shows a marked improvement in subsequent scenes. Still, by the end of the episode it remains unclear whether he was the best choice to lead this series.
Wrenn Schmidt and David Denman appear as Kyle's caring adoptive sister and her less understanding husband, but neither character leaves a lasting impression with both requiring a great deal more development over the course of the series. The pair give the best performances they can with what they're given, but of the adult cast it is Philip Glenister who comes out on top with his turn as the weary Reverend Anderson proving to be one of the episode's highlights. The Reverend is perhaps the most well defined and interesting character featured in the episode, feeling like a truly new creation rather than a more general archetype -- a point which many of the show's characters are yet to progress from.

This isn't helped by a script which wobbles at points with certain expository lines feeling forced in to speed up the plot, leading to awkward moments which can briefly take you out of the story. One has to wonder whether this was the right project for director Adam Wingard, whose recent projects The Guest and You're Next have both left room for comic relief and tongue-in-cheek moments, neither of which can be found in this dour episode. Wingard does a competent job drawing from his previous experience in the horror genre but fails to leave a distinctive impression.

Still, in spite of its flaws Outcast definitely has potential. Although this first episode doesn't do a tremendous job of developing its cast of characters, that isn't to say there won't be opportunities to do interesting things with them further down the line. Mysteries crying out for elaboration are healthily sprinkled in throughout this episode, while a reference to the impending and rather ominous sounding 'great purge' gives a clue as to where future episodes could be headed. The show shines in its pulse-pounding and visually arresting exorcism scenes, but should be careful not to lean to heavily on this aspect as overexposure could lessen their effectiveness. Flawed but ultimately an interesting watch, Outcast is definitely a show which should be on your radar.


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