Supernatural horror is a hot trend on TV right now. A&E's now-canceled The Omen-inspired series Damien started the wave earlier this year. Currently, there's AMC's Preacher, about a man of the cloth with a mysterious spiritual force inside of him. And this fall will see the premiere The Exorcist, Fox's adaptation of the seminal supernatural horror movie.
Preacher and The Exorcist have their work cut out for them competing with Cinemax's new show Outcast to be the best supernatural horror show on TV.
Outcast, which officially premieres Friday (10/9c, Cinemax) but is currently available to stream for free on YouTube and Facebook, has a trait that's all too rare in horror TV: it's actually scary. And it's scary in a few different ways — it does jump-scares, gruesome imagery, atmospheric menace and get-under-your-skin psychological horror exceptionally well for any work of horror, film or television.
The show stars Almost Famous' Patrick Fugit as a man named Kyle Barnes, whose loved ones are plagued by recurring demonic possessions. When Kyle was a child, his mother (Julia Crockett) abused him when she was possessed, and he still lives in the house with remnants of what happened all around him, while Mom lays in the catatonic state she entered when the occupying force left her body. Later, his wife (Kate Lyn Sheil) became possessed, and when Kyle got violent trying to exorcise her demon, she left him and took their daughter with her. Now, Kyle is alone with his metaphorical demons, grappling with why he's been marked for torment and why he has these unwanted exorcism abilities. But it's not just him — the whole town of Rome, West Virginia is overrun with cases of demonic possession, and the local reverend Anderson (Philip Glenister) enlists Kyle to help him cast the demons out of the afflicted.
Outcast is based on a comic series of the same name by Paul Azaceta and Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, who also adapted his source material for TV. Outcast is a very different beast than The Walking Dead, though. Where that show is single-mindedly about survival at any cost, Outcast is much more psychologically and thematically complex, examining the binds of family and the psychic scars that trauma leaves behind. It shares a moody Southern Gothic atmosphere with The Walking Dead, but that's about it. And when The Walking Dead tries to veer into profundity, it's clumsy — whereas on Outcast, the heavier themes never feel forced or unearned, and are often left as subtext.
Much of that is due to the performances. The cast is stacked with actors from great shows, like Boardwalk Empire's Wrenn Schmidt, The Wire's Reg E. Cathey, The Office's David Denman and Star Trek: The Next Generation's Brent Spiner. Schmidt in particular is excellent as Megan Holter, Kyle's childhood friend and caretaker. She plays Holter with a deft mix of vulnerability and steel. There's also a scene-stealing supporting performance by frequent David Lynch collaborator Grace Zabriskie, an unnerving presence whenever she shows up. She'll make your skin crawl here.
Outcast is also marvelously well-crafted in its score and cinematography. The music is composed by Academy Award winner Atticus Ross (The Social Network), Leopold Ross and Claudia Sarne. Atticus Ross' signature cold, decaying soundscapes perfectly match the show's content and build its eerie atmosphere. The camera work is crisp and stylish, capturing the harsh interiors and exteriors of Appalachia with sharp detail. It looks more like a movie than TV, which makes sense — the pilot's cinematographer is David Tattersall, who served as the director of photography on the Star Wars prequels and also shot The Walking Dead's extra-cinematic pilot.
The quality of Fox's The Exorcist has yet to be seen, but it's likely that Outcast will be the more worthy successor to the movie's legacy. It's sophisticated and scary in the same way the original was.
Outcast premieres Friday, June 3 at 10/9c on Cinemax.