What I'm Watching: The Outsider

Miniseries on HoboMax based on a Stephen King novel; I haven't read him regularly since Gerald's Game, which I hated, so I'm not familiar, but if this is representative at all, which movies often are not of King's books, I should get back on the train. It's tangentially related to the Mr Mercedes series which I haven't seen yet.

I do note, almost every shot is in darkness, lit with the minimal number of in-scene lights, and often tinted cyan/orange as usual. It looks like absolute shit. The sound's worse, half the characters, especially the cop, mumble and slur their words, so you can't really watch it without subtitles. Bar music is muffled and ump-ump-umping, with colored gels making the bad lighting worse. Once in a long while, they manage to get a shot in sunlight, outside, and astoundingly they manage to point a camera at it correctly, but mostly this is just incompetently shot and miked. I miss films being, you know, watchable? Put more than a couple little streaks of photons on film?

Also like 90% of the dudes look alike, heavy middle-aged honkie goons with short hair, short beards. I don't know if this is bad casting or intentional? Since it could be anyone? But it plays hell with my mediocre face recognition skills.

The pacing in most scenes is somewhere between glacial and nonexistent, it could've been half the number of episodes with no loss.

On balance, the story being told just barely overcomes the drawbacks, but it's the worst-filmed of King's series and movies that I've seen.

The series starts like every crime drama, an old man with a dog out for a walk in the woods finds a kid's body, abused and bitten(!). Killers, stop leaving your bodies there, you know you're gonna be found, and then a detective with a troubled personal life will get involved and catch you. Well, this one maybe wants it.

So the cliché detective (small-town sheriff) with a troubled personal life arrests the person who looks good for it, with a bunch of blatantly out-of-character eyewitnesses and camera recordings, before the case starts falling apart badly.

Next a new protagonist, P.I. Holly Gibney (Cynthia Erivo, of Widows, Bad Times at the El Royale), goes looking for an explanation. She's a Rain Man fictional autistic genius type, which makes her awkward to watch and utterly implausible as a person, but a good stand-in for a text adventure or RPG player character, willing to go anywhere, ask anything, assemble giant notebooks of clues until the problem is solved.

SPOILERS

















Right up front Holly brings up the stories of Doppelgangers, Fetch, etc., dark shadows of people who commit atrocities in their form, and whether they're myth or just explanations for schizophrenia, dissociative identity disorder, etc., but misses my favorite, the Navajo myth of the Skinwalker, a witch that takes the skin of an animal (or in really dark variants, a person) and assumes their form. I've been expecting that since the moment Terry was accused and obviously not playing the same person as the killer.

So far we have no motive for the skinwalker, but everything in it leads that direction: Claude gets copied at the titty bar. Terry got copied by the skinwalker at the nursing home. Heath got copied in New York. Maria got copied there. If you're a murderous skinwalker, NYC would seem to be the place to stay, nobody'd notice a few missing. Out in the boonies, anyone out of the ordinary is suspicious.

Aside, at one point in a back-story, a kid is scared by the movie Leprechaun (starring the inimitable Warwick Davis!), but the thing is, the leprechaun only kills those who steal his gold (or that he thinks did), so a kid might be squicked out by the gore, but shouldn't be afraid of leprechauns. +5 for reference, -10 for missing the point.

And that's relevant because later Holly's theory is that it's El Coco, here called "El Cuco", or basically the boogeyman. Which also makes no sense because none of the victims were bad kids, and universally we know that the boogeyman only takes away bad kids. If monsters under your bed were eating good kids, parents would rise up in anger & torches & pitchforks, but if they take bad kids, silent sigh of relief and "oh no my dirty-faced angel is gone oh well time to make another".

By episodes 4-5 it really starts to drag, there's no plot advancement except a few minutes of investigation here and there. A lot of repeated scenes of indistinguishable honkie dudes being crazy, the cop brooding, Holly being nerdy at random people who have no reason to hear her out.

E6 manages to get back on track, with Holly explaining everything she knows, making the last few episodes redundant, and new investigation into the monster's abilities.

Nope, E7-E8 are right back to moody nothing, a long car ride into nowhere, Ralph whining at his therapist but unable to even articulate the plot, Holly gets to be cool and stoic until she's not.

Finally, E9-10 have a confrontation, a slow but somewhat tense shootout, and something like final showdown. Even that's made dull, slow and methodical. And then excuses and lies to get the survivors out of trouble.

There's a little post-credits scene, don't just close it, but it doesn't do anything.

I really want to like this. Every element it's doing is clever, in competent filmmakers' hands it'd be great, it's just so incredibly badly told as a show, I can't.

★★½☆☆

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