HBO’s ‘The Outsider’ premiere finds its thrills in eerily calm but violent moments in tranquil southern town

The hair-raising tranquility of ‘The Outsider’ is in the tiniest of moments that appear giant even if there, for but a split second. The first and the only shot of the dead boy, his neck and back mauled bloody. Even that momentary glimpse stays with you throughout and after


                            HBO’s ‘The Outsider’ premiere finds its thrills in eerily calm but violent moments in tranquil southern town
Ben Mendelsohn in 'The Outsider' (HBO)

‘The Outsider’ on HBO will remind you of at least two other shows: ‘True Detective’ and ‘Sharp Objects’. The basic premise is somewhat similar. Murders of children take place in a southern town. And their investigation leads to some unexpected and unlikely places. 

The similarities don’t end there. In terms of cinematography, it bears a striking resemblance to Director of Photography Adam Arkapaw’s work in True Detective’s first season. Quiet aerial shots of the landscape that make the humans feel somewhat insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Long takes that make the moments sink in softly.

In terms of character development, however, it takes less of a Cary Joji Fukunaga approach and moves more towards that of ‘Sharp Objects’: The story is not told just from the point of view of the protagonist. Instead, it finds itself wrapped around and intertwined with the arteries of all involved.

The hair-raising tranquility of ‘The Outsider’, based on a Stephen King novel, is very un-Stephen King. At least visually, it bears not much resemblance to what the iconic horror writer’s words are most famous for -- magical realism, supernatural undercurrents, and symbolism -- but they give you a different kind of chill.

In one sense, however, it is also very true to King’s work: a story full of flawed characters. But it is not the characters that make your heart pound during the first episode, ‘Fish in a Barrel’. It is the tiniest of moments that appear giant even if there, for but a split second.

The first and the only shot of the dead boy, his neck and back mauled bloody. Even that momentary glimpse stays with you throughout and after. There’s a moment when we see the main suspect Terry Maitland’s (Jason Bateman’s) hands when he’s cuffed.

His fingers twirl nervously and one is left guessing if it’s because of guilt or because of fear. It is the small splatter of blood at the bottom of the door of the nondescript white van in which the boy was picked up by his supposed killer. 

It is the scene where the boy’s mother (Dayna Beilenson) in a moment of utter grief and anger destroys her dining room with a baseball bat. All of these moments are violent, but they have an eerie calm (only aided and abetted by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans' sinister background score) to them.

Every scene has a lingering scent of despair. And it is that eerie calm that makes ‘The Outsider’ more horrific than any kind of actual supernatural horror. 

‘The Outsider’ airs Sundays, 9 p.m. EST (8 p.m. CST) on HBO.

Disclaimer : The views expressed in this article belong to the writer and are not necessarily shared by MEAWW.