GORE IN THE STORE
THE OUTSIDER ****
Starring Ben Mendelsohn, Cynthia Erivo, Jason Bateman, Paddy Considine, Marc Menchaca, Bill Camp, Jeremy Bobb, Yul Vazquez, Julianne Nicholson, Mare Winningham.
Horror crime drama, US, certificate 15.
Available now on Digital Download and released on Blu-Ray & DVD by Warner Bros.
Home Entertainment on 27th July 2020.
THE OUTSIDER is based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, and developed for television by novelist and screenwriter Richard Price (THE WIRE, THE NIGHT OF and THE DEUCE).
When the body of an 11-year-old boy is found mutilated in the woods, it seems to be an open and shut case for detective Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn), who himself is grieving the recent death of his own son. Eye witnesses and physical evidence leads him to family man, respected high school teacher and Little League coach Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman). But the ironclad case is compromised when eyewitnesses and physical evidence place Maitland in a neighbouring city at the time of the murder. Maitland’s attorney Howard ‘Howie’ Salomon (Bill Camp) and private investigator Alec Pelley (Jeremy Bobb), persuade Ralph to recruit the unorthodox private investigator Holly Gibney (Cynthia Erivo) to help him explain the impossible.
The series opens with the sound of the contemplative sadness of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto Number 23. Its dramatic rhythm, alongside the ominous and suggestive nature of the images, builds the expectation that shortly the peace and calm of suburbia will be shattered, and the normality of some lives will be changed forever. The composition was completed in 1786, more than two centuries ago now, and while not as old as “El cuco” the predatory evil of the series, as the soundtrack for contemporary sadness and trauma, it fittingly emphasises the presence of the past in a story that is centred on folklore.
When Ralph arrives at the crime scene and removes his headphones, the music fades. It turns out that we have been inside his mind all along, and at the same time we have been randomly following a man walking his dog, fated to make an horrific discovery.
The film opens in broad daylight, but Ralph is at the 15 minute mark of Mozart’s composition when he exits the car. Price orchestrates a manipulation of time, a feeling of disorientation that echoes what will follow for Ralph when the ironclad case is compromised.
Whether or not such moments are conscious or accidental is inconsequential, it’s the effect something has or can have when it is noticed. We never recall a film or series from beginning to end, rather we remember moments. These flashpoint memories can be commonly shared ones, but they can also be unique to the individual, and they are our shorthand to remembering how we responded to any particular story.
There is one memorably eerie exchange when Alec recounts to Howie a story from his tour of duty. It’s one of those captivating moments where the writing and the performances are pitch perfect, the only responsibility of the director and cinematographer to ensure the camera doesn’t fall over. As much as film and television is a visual and sound art form, sometimes the simple marriage of writing and performance create something to marvel at, and there’s an abundance of captivating simplicity throughout the series.
What we will recall about THE OUTSIDER may be the spirit of the cast of ensemble characters, who all have a unique aura that makes them distinctly interesting. Whether or not we appreciate the “finish”, to borrow a phrase from the professional wrestling business, the writing, the characterisation, and the performances should be appreciated both as part of the narrative, and on their individual merits.
The myth building is effective, but there is something tantalising about the mystery of the unexplained, and so in THE OUTSIDER, there is a familiar feeling of regret as the answers begin to cast light on the mystery. Price successfully negotiates this inevitability – the series becomes a suspenseful tale thematically driven by the ideas of whether a cycle of violence and horror can be broken, or is suffering permanent. One of the effective touches is that the series addresses the disturbing point that we are mirrored in the monsters of our stories. While we may like to believe we are above nature, we are in fact part of it. We are governed by nature and deep down we are savage in spite of our perceived civility.
Following on from THE NIGHT OF, which Price co-created with Steve Zaillian, his evolution through the prism of King’s source material to intertwine supernatural horror and folklore with crime is compelling. Yes, it expands our insight into his penchant for dark stories, but his greatest asset here is that a character drama about loss and grief, and a collage of personalities with contrasting feelings and motivations, will appeal to a diverse audience.