‘The Outsider’ review: A Cloud of Horror and Grief

The discovery of a gruesome murder of a young boy in Cherokee sets off this slow-burn mini-series that, if you haven’t read the Stephen King book it’s based on (I hadn’t), takes you to places that are dark. But amidst the heart of the umbra, the fleeting shadows reflect your own fears and scampering monsters.

Cynthia Erivo is beautifully nuanced.

The evidence in young Frank Peterson’s killing (led by key witness and local sleaze bar in-charge Claude Bolton—played by Paddy Considine) presents itself almost immediately as an open-and-shut case for detective Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn), who proceeds to have, with much sly publicity, little league coach Terry Maitland arrested. Maitland’s character is enacted with downplayed presence by Jason Bateman, who also directed two of this series’ episodes. Bateman uses a slow-flicker, simmer technique (that he used and continues to use for the getting-better-with-every-season Ozark). Terry sticks to his innocence and wife Glory promptly dials their family lawyer Howard Salomon (Julianne Nicholson and Bill Camp, both superb) for help. Salomon in turn sends his detective Alec Pelley (Jeremy Bobb) to investigate who finds evidence that’s in shocking contrast to what the cops find, proving Terry’s innocence.

Ben Mendelshohn and Yul Vazquez are stumped by the evidence.

With the stolid Yunis Sablo (Yul Vazquez) and the increasingly erratic Jack Hoskins (Marc Menchaca) forming the cops’ side, Ralph is conflicted with his original decision to arrest Terry. Grudgingly, he agrees with Salomon and Pelley’s idea to get in a savant, gifted-with-an-extra-sense investigator, Holly Gibney (Cynthia Erivo), who’s helped—in ways more than one—by former cop Andy Katcavage (Derek Cecil). The bodies begin to pile, the terror ratchets up with every passing episode, and with Bateman and creator Richard Price, directors Andrew Bernstein, Charlotte Brändström, J.D. Dillard, Karyn Kusama, Igor Martinovic, Daina Reid and writers Stephen King, Dennis Lehane, and Jessie Nickson-Lopez up the burn with steadfast and harrowing effect.

Shoot out at fantasy factory.

But apart from the suspense and horror there’s something else that hangs above The Outsider like a dark cloud. It’s not just the highly effective tensile score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans. It’s the inescapable stratocumulus of grief that’s welded into each one of our lives the moment we’re born. In its own weirdly tenderly terrorizing way, the series takes an unwavering look at it. And Ben Mendelsohn (also producing the series) is our lens to it. With his languid, beaten body language, the actor brings out the pain and the catharsis that he and his wife Jeannie (played with soft and understanding kindness by Mare Winningham) await, but that which may never arrive; and the cynicism that that pain in turn has churned within him and how this case forces him to face and question all that he’s believed—and disbelieved—in. Dealing with pain and tragedy is something all of us do at some point or all points of our lives. Some of that pain may ease with time. Others will play tag with you all of their—and your life.

The Outsider also tugs at you with what it conveys with its title via the empathetic and moving performance that Holly Gibney’s Cynthia Erivo delivers. The actor is beautifully calibrated and nuanced as she struggles with everything that she has—her talent, her skin color, her gender—that make her an outsider. And she’s not the only one. In these uncertain times, as we’re forced to relook at all that we’ve collectively done that’s brought us closer to a truly existential horror, The Outsider forces us to think: in someone’s world, we’re just that. Unwelcome outsiders. That’s the real terror the series unleashes.

The Outsider (2020– ) on IMDb Movie data powered by IMDb. All images owned by the producers.

The Outsider is streaming on Hotstar and is rated A (Restricted to adults). Nudity, violence, frightening sequences, and the hovering sadness.

The Outsider
Directors Andrew Bernstein, Charlotte Brändström, J.D. Dillard, Karyn Kusama, Igor Martinovic, Daina Reid Time 50-60min
Writers Stephen King, Dennis Lehane, Jessie Nickson-Lopez
Stars Ben Mendelsohn, Julianne Nicholson, Bill Camp, Cynthia Erivo, Yul Vazquez, Jason Bateman, Marc Menchaca
Genres Crime, Drama, Fantasy, Mystery, Thriller

The Outsider trailer