Horror (in this case exorcisms and demonic possessions) remains at the heart of Robert Kirkman’s latest attempt to adapt one of his comic-book stories, but Outcast isn’t going to be The Walking Dead, nor is it trying to be. The threats are not ever present, yet they can emerge at any point with no discernible physical tell until then. Demons have replaced the glorious and attention-grabbing zombies and a pulsing panic has been traded for a sense of creeping dread as we peer in at one man’s self-imposed isolation.
Kyle Barnes (Patrick Fugit) is that man; a good person who has been terrorized by dark forces that have mostly been written off by others as mental illness. Consequently, he’s lost contact with his mother, his wife, his daughter, and his will to live. In his mother’s old house, which he’s occupied for five months, garbage piles up, food runs low, and most of the trappings of childhood — like toys and creepily scrawled crayon wall art — remain. These inspire flashbacks, haunting Kyle. A grey sheen rests atop his entire existence. Were it not for Kyle’s adopted sister Megan (Wrenn Schmidt), he’d probably starve to death. And he probably wouldn’t mind.
Fugit imbues this husk of a man with a mixture of visceral guilt, sadness, and anger. Kyle is quiet, but prone to bouts of explosiveness and despair. He’s fragile, coming undone when Megan’s daughter plainly asks about his current relationship with his daughter. Really, were it not for the supernatural elements, this story would stand on its own as a tremendous examination of grief and self-punishment.
Megan is charitable and her husband, Mark (The Office‘s David Denman), is a seemingly good guy cop who is protective of his daughter. Like others in the town of Rome, West Virginia (a gossip-filled small town that looks like it has also given up on living), Mark is suspicious of Kyle following the situation with his family that sent him careening toward his self-imprisonment.
While Mark is the prime skeptic (something that Denman’s everyman vibe helps to sell without making the character out to be a villain), Kyle is also aided by believers. Chief Giles (Reg E. Cathey from The Wire and House Of Cards) figures to get more to do as the story moves on, but it’s clear that he’s either open to the possibility that Kyle’s actions are tied to a fight against dark forces or that he’s at least willing to admit that he doesn’t know what it is that has visited his small town. Reverend Anderson (UK TV force Philip Glenister), however, is as full of faith as he is country charm as a laid-back smooth talker who tends to the exorcism of the young boy.
Anderson has a history with Kyle that requires deeper explanation and there is some kind of pain tied up in his own personal life that’s merely teased. In the pilot, Kirkman makes it a clear goal to keep us at arm’s length from a full understanding of these people, revealing only what he absolutely needs to while preserving the rest in a way that should make viewers crave those revelations.
The exorcisms portrayed in the show, which punch through the quiet story about Kyle’s hard journey and force him to confront his demons, are composed in such a way that they feel like nothing short of a masterful tribute to the genre favorites that came before. Nothing is spared. The violence is shocking, yet nothing feels gratuitous.
It’s clear that, through his connection to the possessions, Kyle can find his purpose and maybe his salvation. That journey is Outcast‘s primary preoccupation at this early stage, but something bigger is in the shadows (and Kirkman confirmed as much to us). But while all stories need to move forward or die, the initial glimpse into Kyle’s life and his first step toward defying that which has held him down really takes a hold, and makes you want to linger within this moody slow-burn drama before it turns into some kind of global fight against demons and the possessed. Less is more, in this case.
Outcast premieres Friday at 10pm ET on Cinemax.