'The Outsider' magnifies emotional trauma and mental issues to create horror and Jack Hoskins is its vessel
The reason why the Outsider affects him is that Jack was already battling his demons. The entity finds Jack an easy prey because he has his vulnerabilities and quite frankly a lot of them
For a long time, horror as a film or television genre has been a mish-mash of jumpscare scenes, gore, and the cliche of good versus evil. In the last few years, however, emotionality as a component of horror has found currency and when done right, the effect is spectacular.
Take for instance any Ari Aster film, or the Netflix adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Haunting of Hill House’: the scare in all of them come not just from a supernatural entity, but also from bad mental health. It is the emotional trauma that somehow gets manifested into something far more insidious, obviously aided and abetted by whatever spectral entity is at the core of the story.
We see something similar in Takashi Shimizu’s iconic ‘Ju-on’ franchise that was also adapted for the American audiences as ‘The Grudge’ series. Trauma, resentment, anger, grudges; they all sit and fester and transform into toxicity and that toxicity eats up everyone and everything around; metaphorically, of course.
That is also one of the things that makes HBO’s southern gothic horror series ‘The Outsider’ work. And the vessel for this emotional turmoil and vitriol is Jack Hoskins, played by Marc Menchaca. In the beginning, Jack is introduced as a rough cop who has a drinking problem.
At some point in the story, he is visited by the eponymous Outsider (call the entity whatever you want). And after that, we start witnessing Jack’s slow descent into madness.
The reason why the Outsider affects him is that Jack was already battling his demons. The entity finds Jack an easy prey because he has his vulnerabilities and frankly a lot of them.
He has rage issues that stem from his childhood. He had a toxic relationship with his mother, clearly visible from when he hallucinated about her. That scene has Jack’s dead mother beating him up cruelly. It was one of the more interesting scenes in the show. On the one hand, it can be taken as proof that something supernatural is definitely at play. Or it can also be taken as yet another example of Jack’s declining mental health.
Picture this: Like in ‘Fight Club’, where Edward Norton only imagined fighting with Brad Pitt but in reality was beating himself up, Jack could have been doing the same. The reason we saw his mother is because Jack saw his mother.
In ways more than one, ‘The Outsider’ makes for an unsettling watch because it is difficult to pinpoint where the supernatural horror lies, if at all. And Jack’s journey is the most disturbing of all. He feels compelled to kill Holly Gibney (Cynthis Erivo) because the voice in his head tells him to. But he also fights it, questions it. That, in turn, causes him pain. But is that pain real, or psychosomatic? Is the voice in his head real, or just an auditory hallucination? Are the signs asking him to “stop” Holly real, or just him losing his mind?
At some point in episode 7 of the show, Jack even contemplates suicide. He almost goes through with it but stops at the last moment. Jack’s mind is the true monstrosity of the show thus far. It’s what makes the show tick. Not the murders, not the thriller vibe, not the hint of a shape-shifting, child-eating bogeyman.
It is the atrophy that years of subdued trauma and pain cause that makes everything scary.
‘The Outsider’ airs on Sundays at 9 pm EST on HBO.