The Outsider review: Ben Mendelsohn-starrer is a hypnotic watch

Kshitij Rawat
The Outsider hbo review

In India, The Outsider is streaming on Hotstar.

HBO’s The Outsider has proven to be as good as, if not better, than the best-selling Stephen King novel it takes its source material from. That is not something you can say so often with the Master of Horror.

*Minor spoilers ahead*

The core mystery at the heart of the story is the rape and murder of a child. All the circumstantial and DNA evidence and eye-witness reports point towards Jason Bateman’s Terry Maitland, a baseball coach with easy access to kids. But he says he was at a conference outside town during the incident, and there is footage affirming his claim.

Ben Mendelsohn’s Detective Ralph Anderson arrests Terry very publicly, to make a point.

Apart from Bateman and Mendelsohn, The Outsider also features Cynthia Ervo, Julianne Nicholson, Mare Winningham and Marc Menchaca.

The Outsider hbo

Ben Mendelsohn and Cynthia Erivo in a still from HBO's The Outsider.

The explanation is obviously supernatural, and after spending roughly the first half being a police-procedural-and-murder-mystery with a supernatural element around the periphery, the miniseries goes fully-fledged horror in the latter half. Surprisingly enough, it manages to do justice to both the genres. Also, the transition is smooth and in a sense inevitable. How else can the incident be explained?

The Outsider is, at least in the beginning, a slow burn cop thriller in the vein of True Detective season 1 (the miniseries comes from Richard Price who has written for other HBO series like The Wire, The Deuce and The Night Of). The Outsider takes its time doing stuff. But it also imparts a strong sense of setting and character, particularly to Ralph, whose role is absolutely owned by a top-notch Mendelsohn.

Also, when it does shift gears into the realm of supernatural, The Outsider gets pretty far removed from True Detective season 1. The latter left a little ambiguity where The Outsider leaves none.

The culprit is a monster called El Cuco, who had assumed the form of Terry to commit the horrifying crime. Unlike the book, the series wisely, in this scribe’s opinion, reveals the supernatural in the first episode itself — no point stretching it when only the supernatural explanation is the one that makes sense. In the miniseries, the mystery is not whether Terry is innocent, it is when Ralph will find it out and how will he deal with it.

The Outsider is a superbly written, shot and acted miniseries, that is not to be missed, whether one is a Stephen King fan or not.