‘Outcast’ Series Premiere: “A Darkness Surrounds Him”

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The latest adaptation of a comic by Robert Kirkman, of “The Walking Dead” fame, “Outcast” takes on demonic possession in fairly riveting fashion, thanks to a no-holds-barred approach to its subject matter, and a decidedly unorthodox pair of exorcists, whose methods might be effective, but are a little controversial, to say the least. But then, I suppose the same could be said about exorcism in general.

In the bang-up premiere, “A Darkness Surrounds Him,” we first meet the possessed in question, Joshua (Gabriel Bateman, “Stalker”) as he stares down a cockroach on his bedroom wall, then, in a markedly unexpected method of extermination, head-butts the buggy menace and then proceeds to lick up the guts. Yum! Glad I didn’t watch this one during dinner, needless to say.

As a follow-up, Joshua goes downstairs to his mother and teenage sister arguing, completely clueless that he’s standing there with blood dripping down his face, as he snags some potato chips for a follow-up snack. After his sister storms out, his mom gets onto him, as she realizes he is no longer snacking on chips… but his finger!

Well, that’s one way to open a show, I guess. As directed by horror auteur Adam Wingard (“You’re Next”), it’s disquieting, unnerving and undeniably effective. Wingard is certainly on a roll, between this and reportedly being a front-runner for the next “Halloween” installment, the first to be executive-produced by creator John Carpenter since the third film way back in 1982. Not too shabby there, Adam.

Unlike the more methodical “Walking Dead,” this show moves along at a much brisker pace, and offers up much more in the way of character and plot development than that show, which is sometimes as slow-moving as its titular ghouls.

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Granted, this is only the first episode, and lest we forget, the pilot of “TWD” was also a grabber, but nonetheless, this one is immediately set apart by the fact that it’s creator actually wrote it, adapting his own material in the process. (Yes, Kirkman has since gone on to write several episodes of “TWD,” but still.)

As such, it hews close to the source material, and what’s more, as the comic is relatively new, which means that, not unlike what’s going on with “Game of Thrones” as of recently, it’s only a matter of time before this show likely surpasses the books as well.

In other words, comic readers may be one step ahead of others for now, but it’s already been picked up for a second season, so it might not be for much longer. There are eighteen issues to date, thus far, and each season will be ten episodes, so you do the math, assuming each issue equals an episode, which may or may not prove to be the case.

The show’s main two characters are Reverend Anderson (Philip Glenister, “Life on Mars”), a hard-living man who drinks, smokes and gambles, but make no doubt about it: he definitely believes in the Lord.

A large part of that is due to the man who becomes his cohort, Kyle Barnes (Patrick Fugit, a long way from “Almost Famous”), who single-handedly defeated a demon that had possessed his mother when he was just a child- though how that was remains elusive.

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After a marriage that failed under mysterious circumstances- Barnes allegedly physically abused his own daughter- Kyle is back to his hometown of Rome, West Virginia, where he is living alone in his old family house in virtual squalor, much to his sister’s dismay.

Megan (Wrenn Schmidt, “Boardwalk Empire”) is married to a policeman in town, Mark Holter (David Denman, “The Office”), who hates Kyle and is scared to have him around his own daughter, though Megan steadfastly defends him because of something he did to save her life when they were kids.

As we discover later on, she’s right to, as it wasn’t Kyle that hurt his daughter at all, but his wife, Alison (Kate Lyn Shell, “The Girlfriend Experience”). So, why leave his daughter with her? Because it’s clear that Alison doesn’t remember doing it at all, and has apparently accused Kyle of the crime.

The reason being, Alison herself was possessed at one time- and may still be- and did it while under a demon’s influence. Be that as it may, Kyle suspects it is his fault it happened, nonetheless, given that his mother was also possessed at one time- she’s now in a coma and has been for some time, from the looks of things- and then his wife. Might the demon be tormenting Kyle personally?

That begs the question: why doesn’t the demon simply possess Kyle? As we also find out, it’s because Kyle may be the only thing that can stop the demons from possessing people- or at the very least, from staying put, once they have done so. As we see, a single tear from his eye is enough to burn the skin of the possessed, and his blood has an even more concrete effect: it seemingly dispels the demon altogether from its host.

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Kyle only discovers this when he seeks out the Reverend, who asks him to take a look at the aforementioned Joshua, who exhibits all the trademarks of a possession: vacant stares, contortion skills well beyond any normal human being, speaking in guttural tones, and all-around bizarre behavior, like, I don’t know, eating bugs and one’s fingers. The usual, you know?

No sooner does Kyle enter the room than his very presence elicits an effect on the demon in question, who immediately recognizes him and starts making references to Kyle’s past that only he would know. After tossing both the men around the room like rag dolls, Joshua attempts to suck out some sort of essence or life force or what have you from inside Kyle’s body through his mouth, much to both men’s shock.

Anderson manages to pull Joshua off of Kyle and he leaves, but after giving the matter some thought and thinking back on what he did previously with his mother, he decides to give the matter one more try. The two return and Kyle throws open the curtain in the bedroom to let the sunlight from outside in, which Joshua recoils from instantly.

The two men drag him out into the light, and once again, Joshua tosses them away like it was nothing, but this time, Kyle isn’t so easily deterred and actually punches the kid! Not just once, either, but repeatedly, mind you. At one point, Joshua actually starts to levitate, with Kyle still atop him, which was a pretty cool visual.

In the end, though, after Joshua bites Kyle’s hand, Kyle’s blood falls upon the boy and it’s clear that it burns him, much like his tears burnt his mother all those years ago. Using this to his advantage, Kyle squeezes his hand and drips the blood into Joshua’s mouth, which causes him to vomit up the demon, which pools onto the ceiling.

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It attempts to reform and take shape, but ultimately fails, making a last ditch effort to jump out at Kyle and Anderson before being dissolved altogether in the sunlight. This accomplished, Joshua is freed from the invasive spirit and returns to himself, much to his mother’s relief.

So much so that she opts to overlook the manhandling of her son by Kyle and not press charges against him when the cops arrive, including a more suspicious-than-ever Mark. Anderson says he’s never seen anything like that before- and neither has Kyle, who says it was nothing like that with his mother.

But now he knows that he wasn’t imagining things with his previous experiences- something really is after him, and whatever it is wants whatever it is inside him. Now armed with more information on that matter than ever before, we end the episode with Kyle entreating the demons to “come and get me.”

All in all, a very solid premiere episode, with plenty to digest, a great set-up for future episodes, and some new wrinkles to the old possession gambits we’ve seen a million time before. Yes, they’re not completely reinventing the wheel here, as it’s still recognizably within the possession subgenre and contains a lot of the typical tropes, but it’s also just different enough to keep you on your toes, nonetheless.

I think a large part of that comes from the interesting approach taken with the characters in particular. From the atypical Reverend Anderson, with his vice-ridden lifestyle (which should provide the demons with plenty of material to taunt him with in future episodes) to the damaged goods of Kyle, who is a good person unfairly maligned as quite the opposite by most everyone in town and even his own family, these aren’t the typical characters one finds in a story like this.

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This sort of quirky approach bodes well for the show’s future, but less so for the likes of say, the forthcoming FOX adaptation “The Exorcist,” which I would be willing to bet takes a more stereotypical approach to its characters, which is to say, more traditional and by-the-numbers. Put another way, you probably won’t be seeing anyone smack around a 9-year-old on that show.

Not that I condone that sort of thing, obviously, but it certainly had its intended effect, which was to shock. There is some imagery here I won’t soon be forgetting, that’s for sure, from that beginning sequence with the roach and the finger, to the final exorcism and all that went on, which was certainly left-of-center, to say the least.

In this day and age, given all the cliché-ridden horror out there these days trying to pass for scary or disturbing, that’s saying something. I don’t know that I’ll lose any sleep over “Outcast”- I’ve seen way too much horror stuff over the years to be creeped out so easily- but the show at least showed me that this old devil still has a few new tricks left in him yet. I’m in.

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What did you think of “Outcast”? Did you like the casting? (I barely recognized Fugit, who still looked baby-faced last time I saw him- not anymore!) How about the setting? (I dug it, especially Joshua’s place, which looked a bit like the house in “The Conjuring” by way of the one in the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Also, as a fellow Southerner, I appreciated the sighting of a Piggly Wiggly, lol.)

How did you think the show stacked up to “The Walking Dead”? Does it have the potential to be better? Or did it not grab you as much as you hoped? Will you be tuning in next week? Will you be checking out the comic as well? Sound off down below and I’ll see you next week!