Jim “Jesus” Caviezel stars as the titular survenant, a man from a far more advanced than us race who’ve mastered outer-space travel. As the film begins, he crashes his spaceship on Earth, more precisely in 709 AD Norway, and soon gets captured by Vikings, who are on the brink of war. You see, there’s this tribe led by Ron “Hellboy” Perlman which thinks that the one led by John Hurt attacked their village… Only, in reality, the culprit is a Moorwen, i.e. a terrifying, literally out of this world monster that has somehow been brought here along with the Outlander’s ship.
You can kind of guess what will follow: the stranger will have to win the trust of his hosts and convince them that they need his help to defeat the Moorwen. But even once everyone’s united against this hellish creature, it will be a major pain in the ass to kill it, and a lot of men will die trying…
“Outlander” is an epic, visually striking picture, with some often breathtaking shot composition. On the DVD box, there’s a critic’s quote calling it “Beowulf meets Predator”, which is not wrong, if a bit reductive. In any case, I’d compare it more to “Pathfinder” or “The 13th Warrior” than “Beowulf”, and while the Moorwen’s methods are not unlike the Predator’s, the actual design of the monster is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. I really can’t describe it, but if I must, I’d say it’s kind of a cross between the Balrog in “Lord of the Rings”, one of the bugs in “Starship Troopers” and the beast in “Le Pacte des loups”.
Speaking of that latter film, it’s probably the closest relative of “Outlander” I can think of. Not that Christophe Gans and Howard McCain’s movies really have that many specific things in common; it’s just that they’re both smörgåsbords that borrow elements from heroic fantasy, horror and action cinema. And “Outlander” goes even further by throwing in some sci-fi!
Now, I can already see some critics frowning upon such a brutal, over the top display of genre filmmaking. “But there is also, I suppose, a real question of taste involved: a judgment that the heroic or tragic story on a strictly human plane is by nature superior. Doom is held less literary than hamartia (tragic flaw). The proposition seems to have been passed as self-evident. I dissent, even at the risk of being held incorrect or not sober.” That’s not me talking, that’s J.R.R. Tolkien, in his seminal essay “The Monsters and the Critics”, where he explains better than I ever could why monsters matter, pure expressions that they are of the “chaos and unreason” which have always been and always will be part of this world.
But that’s beside the point anyway. Just know that when all is said and done, “Outlander” wipes the floor with any “Wolverine”, “Star Trek” or “Terminator Salvation”.