A young boy stares intently at a cockroach crawling on his bedroom wall before violently head-butting it to a pulp, which he then hungrily slurps up.
This unsettling opening scene sets the tone for Outcast, the latest television adaptation of a Robert Kirkman comic book series. Kirkman is famous for creating The Walking Dead but it’s wrong to approach Outcast expecting a similar scenario with demons instead of zombies. This isn’t that kind of show. What it does have in common with TWD is its focus on a tight knit group of characters and how they react when faced with horrific situations and moral dilemmas.
The community of Rome, West Virginia, confronts demons both personal and literal, especially Kyle Barnes (Patrick Fugit), who has been battling them from childhood when he witnessed the nightmarish possession of his mother. Shadowed by dark forces throughout his life, which have separated him from his wife and daughter, Kyle is the outcast of the title.
“I think Kyle has built up an armour over the years,” says Fugit. “He suffered some heavy trauma when he was young, and part of his redemption through that whole process was finding his wife and having a child. And then that’s also been torn away from him, so I think that the ghosts of the past are what haunt him the most. What’s happening now triggers the memories, and those have to do with what he wants in life and where he wants to be, rather than where he is now.”
“This is a world where there are a lot of things going on behind closed doors,” explains Kirkman. “One of the things I find most interesting is that you can be in this hellish world in a dark room, and then step to the other side of the wall and take a break from it. It’s not like The Walking Dead where it’s an all-encompassing thing, and to have that in a small town where everyone is so intimately involved in everyone’s lives… it adds a cool atmosphere to the overall story.”
Kirkman acknowledges the influence of The Exorcist and its position as “the high watermark of the exorcism genre”, but stresses that Outcast follows a different path to the classic film and its spin-off TV series.
“While I do say that this is an exorcism show, I think from minute one you’ll see how different it is from The Exorcist. It’s offering a completely different kind of experience… we’re trying to subvert everything done in The Exorcist.
“There’s no Catholicism in this show,” he continues. “I just felt that most exorcism stories deal with Catholicism and it’s a very structured, regimented process. There are all those things you see in other movies, like the Vatican’s involvement, and that just doesn’t interest me – we’ve seen all that stuff before.
“There is an amazing tradition of Baptist exorcisms in the south, which is what I wanted to explore. It’s more messy with a lot more on-the-spot creativity, so I wanted to bring that to the screen and give this show a different flavor from all those other exorcism stories.”