Demonic possession is one of the horror genre’s most ubiquitous tropes. Director, William Friedkin’s 1973 classic, The Exorcist, cemented the convention, and it’s been used with shocking regularity ever since. While there’s nothing wrong with homaging the classics (James Wan, for instance, used possession extremely effectively in 2013’s The Conjuring), it does begin to feel a little stale after a while. Creepy kid starts acting weird, cue the swearing and the head spinning, bring in the reluctant priest to save the day, spew a bunch of bile versus bible verses, rinse, repeat. Just as rock always trumps scissors, God always beats Devil, which is reassuring in a fairy tale kind of way, but not terribly imaginative from a storytelling perspective.
Happily, Outcast has come along to freshen up the conventions and offer 2016’s best new series. Based on the comic by The Walking Dead creator, Robert Kirkman, the story revolves around Kyle Barnes (Patrick Fugit) and Reverend John Anderson (Philip Glenister), who live in the small town of Rome, West Virginia. Kyle is despised by local residents for allegedly beating up his wife and daughter, a charge that he doesn’t deny, but there’s a lot more going on with Kyle, and it seems tied to the spate of alleged demonic possessions that has the reverend so busy of late.
Outcast’s setting is working class rural America, a change from the predominantly affluent or upper middle class settings where these stories usually take place. Possession here is often used as an allegory for class, alcoholism, or domestic violence, and the series plays with viewer’s expectations, particularly in the Adam Wingard (You’re Next, Blair Witch)-directed pilot, “A Darkness Surrounds Him” – a profoundly tense and engaging introduction to the series.
Over its ten-episode run, the first season of Outcast raises some fascinating “what if” questions. Like, what if so-called demonic possession has nothing to do with theistic notions of God and the Devil? What if the people who are possessed were much worse prior to their occupation? And why do the demonically afflicted call Kyle “outcast”? The answers to these questions are not fully delivered in the first season, but the revelations on hand are striking and original with the usual tropes subverted cleverly.
Highlights of season one include the aforementioned pilot, along with “What Lurks Within” (an episode dealing with the villainous Sidney, played by Brent Spiner) and the white-knuckle ride finale, “This Little Light”, but the series as a whole is a showcase of slow-burn horror, quality drama, and stylish episodic storytelling.
The extras on the Blu-ray include deleted scenes, documentaries on the comic book origins of the series, and a deeper dive into some of the episodes. That said, the series itself is the gold here. Outcast is consistently tense, cerebral and occasionally deeply disturbing. It reinvigorates the well-worn concept of possession, and delivers something fresh and even dangerous. Explore it now before the second season takes over your telly in 2017.