You don’t have to be a fan of AMC’s The Walking Dead to be captivated by Cinemax’s new horror thriller Outcast, based on the graphic novels-comics by Robert Kirkman and Paul Azaceta. You don’t even have to be a fan of the authors themselves. It helps, however, to be a fan of the horror genre, since the shows packs in a hefty weekly dose of demons, Satanic and personal.
Based on the premise that one’s inner demons can be almost as terrifying as being possessed by Hellish ones, Outcast explores the way a person’s past can haunt him as much as any supernatural demon. The major protagonist, Kyle Barnes (Patrick Fugit) grew up with a mother who, supposedly possessed by demonic forces, violently abused the boy.
Later, after she became catatonic and was committed to a Home, Kyle was taken in by a foster family who eventually adopted him. His sister Megan (Wrenn Schmidt) tries to take care of Kyle now that he is separated from his wife and daughter.
In conjunction with Reverend Anderson (Philip Glenister) — one of the most fascinating and complex characters in the series to date — Kyle confronts the demons who seem to be gathering in various inhabitants of Rome WV, all the while wondering what it is about him that causes him to constantly encounter these demons, who address Kyle as “Outcast.”
At first, the show had some major weaknesses. The constant flashbacks to Kyle’s childhood, when he was abused by his demonically possessed mother, Sarah Barnes (Julia Crockett) were repetitions of the same few flashbacks: they were repetitious because they didn’t provide new information on Kyle’s childhood, his character, nor his mother’s nature. Also, they occurred every few minutes, which got tedious in the extreme.
Additionally, each of the first three episodes featured an exorcism, leading me to fear that the show would degenerate into an Exorcism of the Week format.
Fortunately, both of those weaknesses disappeared by the fourth episode, “A Wrath Unseen,” as the show stretched its focus to explore the personal lives of the characters surrounding Kyle, including his sister Megan and her husband officer Mark Holter (David Denman, below L), who is conducting an investigation with Chief Giles (Reg E. Cathey, below R) into dead and mounted animals left in the woods, and a bloodied camper.
Reverend Anderson is one of the strongest characters in the early episodes, since he is more unpredictable in his attempts to help his congregation defeat demons. Is he doing it for God, or for his own reputation? We’ve yet to discover that.
Apparently, Rev. Anderson has been doing this for a while, but suddenly, the demon possession of individuals in Rome has multiplied exponentially. Except for the fact that this would be immediately noticed by law enforcement and medical personnel since there’s quite a bit of physical violence inflicted on those who are possessed, both by the demons themselves and by Kyle as he aids the Revered in his attempt to exorcise the demonic spirits, the show handles the actual violence relatively well. Some of it is on-screen, but most is off.
One of the most gruesome moments happens in the first scene of episode 1, “A Darkness Surrounds Him,” with a possessed boy, Joshua (Gabriel Bateman), and a bug. In the highlights of the show aired immediately afterward, the director and writer stated that young Bateman himself thought of many of the possessed behaviors for his character.
While that may be true, it is clear that Bateman has seen The Exorcist quite a few times, since much of his demonic actions — levitating, talking in Voices, puking green-pea-soup — are directly from the classic film.
That’s one of the things that slowed the premiere down because viewers had a “been there, seen that” feeling. The show improved in the second episode, “(I Remember) When She Loved Me,” which concentrated on Kyle’s past, including his relationship with his mother, which wasn’t all demons and physical abuse, making the demonic possession more tragic.
By the fourth episode, the show has found its comfort zone in the horror genre, terrifying viewers with hints of demons — personal and demonic — instead of just rolling out the Exorcist special effects. Veteran character actor Grace Zabrieski as Mildred, a congregationist who was supposedly exorcised two years previously, displayed her acting talent by threatening both Kyle and the Reverend.
The investigation into the gruesome bloodied camper finally expanded, while a visit from someone in Megan’s past released her own demons, those of her husband, and those of adopted brother Kyle. Brent Spiner’s character Sidney, introduced in episode 2, is not yet doing more than lurking about, but I suspect that will change. (If it doesn’t, it would be a dreadful waste of Spiner’s talent.) At this point, it’s unclear whether Sidney is the Devil himself or just a powerful and very well dressed demon.
The show’s super haunting and spooky opening credits will get your attention fast. Outcast airs Fridays at 10p.m. ET on Cinemax. You can watch the premiere, “A Darkness Surrounds Him,” free on Cinemax (or on its YouTube Channel) and watch all the episodes on MaxGo.
Scary in a completely different way from Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, Cinemax’s Outcast is sure to grab horror fans by the throat and not let them go. Enjoy the trailer, my fellow Outcasts.