★★ / ★★★★
Mother and son, Mary (Kate Dickie) and Fergal (Niall Bruton), are on the run, currently taking refuge in a squalid apartment complex in Scotland. Since Mary is from an ancient Celtic race with magical powers, she is able to cast a spell designed to hide their new home from those who seek her and Fergal any sort of harm. Cathal (James Nesbitt), temporarily acquiring powers of his own due to tattoos drawn by an elder on his back, wishes to hunt and kill the mother and son even though he is only assigned to get rid of the latter. Liam (Ciarán McMenamin) is assigned to be his guide as well as to ensure that Cathal abides by what he is sent out to do.
The premise of “Outcast,” written by Colm McCarthy and Tom K. McCarthy, inspired me to stifle a laugh, at least initially, but it just goes to show that a solid execution goes a long way. Before I knew it, I was very much into the story and the performances that help to drive it forward. However, what limits it most is its own ambition. In its desire to cover so much ground, one gets the feeling that the most interesting plot points and characters are only superficially touched.
Although its leading characters are able to cast dark spells, the story is anchored to a strong enough reality that the impossible feels possible enough. The conflict between Mary and Cathal takes place in a world where there is poverty all around and cultures clash, the latter not restricted to difference in creed or the color of one’s skin but also taking into account one’s socioeconomic place. There is a woman from Social Services (Christine Tremarco) introduced in the first half who is obviously not from that side of the city. A glimpse of her prejudice is seen and felt but she is underutilized. Her violent fate feels right with respect to the film’s universe, but it might have made more impact if she had been more fleshed out, if you will.
The story revolves around the protection and destruction of Fergal, not allowed to have anything to do with girls or any sort of pleasure involving the flesh, but the most fascinating character is his mother. Dickie does such a fantastic job in portraying an overprotective, almost domineering, mother. I liked that she allows herself to look haggard in order to communicate that her character’s mistake has haunted her for the past decade and a half. Each time it is only mother and son in an enclosed space, her desperation is felt down to her pores. And yet there is love there. I imagined that had a happier circumstance surrounded them, they would have had a relationship that many could possibly envy.
I enjoyed that the casting director picked an actor who looks like a real teenager: pimples, awkward posture, and all. It is easier to believe that Fergal is young, unpredictable, and on the verge of significant change. However, the eventual romantic relationship he has with the girl next door, Petronella (Hanna Stanbridge), does not have much depth. ‘Nella is used either as the responsible sister who takes care of her brother or the girl who wants to have sex with Fergal. I found it amusing and slightly offensive, give-or-take, 70-30.
Directed by Colm McCarthy, “Outcast” has a lot of energy and at times it shows through the movement of the camera. Take the scene when Fergal tells ‘Nella that he is from a world different than that of what she is accustomed to. The camera revolves around the characters who are sharing a very intimate moment as if it were capturing an exciting action sequence. Like Fergal, the director ought to have known the value of self-restraint.