Thanks to a research grant from Pop Culture Zoo’s Norse Film Bureau, I was able to see Howard McCain’s Outlander despite its extremely limited release. Since the concept can be boiled down to “Spaceman and Vikings fight an alien monster,” I wasn’t expecting deathless cinema. What I got was a pleasingly shot flick that features a surpising hit of pathos alongside an impressive body count. There’s plenty of gory fun to be had amidst the Beowulf-meets-E.T. antics.

Director/co-writer McCain also penned the script for Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, so he’s having a pretty good year. He and Dirk Blackman turn in a workmanlike script that begins with a nice atmospheric entry sequence as alien soldier Kainan (The Passion of the Christ‘s James Caviezel at his most stoic) plummets to earth in the wake of an interstellar battle. A clever, almost throw-away reference explains why he looks so human in a way that should make any Zecharia Sitchin boosters happy, and the first line of dialogue is chuckle-worthy.

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But things soon prove less amusing for our protagonist. Seems he brought a big bioluminescent baddie called a Moorwen with him, and it begins to eat its way through the 8th Century Norse countryside. Both monster and scenery are gorgeous; by using the critter sparingly and letting Canada sub for Norway, the film makes the most of its money. John Hurt also classes up the joint as King Rothgar, his name one of the many Beowulf references seeded throughout the plot, who is understandably concerned about the wholesale slaughter going on in the neighborhood. Adding to his stress is the hotheaded Wulfric set to take over the kingdom when he dies (a very tasty Jack Huston) and his anachronistically badass daughter Freya (an even tastier Sophia Myles, best known to nerds as Madame De Pompadour in the second season Doctor Who episode, “The Girl in the Fireplace”).

And there’s more bad news. The first village eaten all up belongs to Gunnar, an underused Ron Pearlman, who sheds any trace of Hellboy’s affable, blue-collar charm to portray a man who solves problems by hitting things with big stone hammers until they die. He’s truly intimidating here, one of a few good performances that elevate the material.

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It doesn’t give away the rest of the plot to reveal that eventually the Vikings all rally together to fight the monster — though there’s a surprising moment between Kainan and Freya in which we get a sobering glimpse of the history between his race and the Moorwen’s that puts the monster’s fury in context. That moment is soon buried in a tide of really stylish bloodshed. The R rating here is all for violence, and there’s severed body parts a-plenty. In fact, the scenes of Freya in the ‘pantry’ of the Moorwen are as squirm-inducing as anything from Rob Zombie.

The carnage doesn’t entirely save the film; uninspired cliches are well represented here by the obligatory drunkard barbarian, a scene of mead hall feasting that could be lifted from any 13th Warrior outtake, and lots of hearty people wearing furs and appearing generally unwashed. But over all, Outlander is entertaining enough to merit a look.

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