Ken Loach meets Leprechaun (with a  smattering of Ginger Snaps) in coming of age Celtic mythology-based urban horror yarn, Outcast.

Irish traveller Mary (Kate Dickie) has formed a close-knit relationship with her 15 year-old son Fergal (Niall Bruton) after having spent most of their lives on the run from the boy’s father Cathal (James Nesbitt), a dangerous and driven man who dabbles in the occult to attempt to locate his offspring. His teenage son is the result of a brief union between the two, and as Mary hails from a tribe of ‘shape shifters’ called Shi, who (for some reason or another) represent a danger to Cathal’s people, his son must be eliminated.

Setting up temporary accommodation in an old, high-rise in Edinburgh, Fergal finds himself drawn to his young, spirited neighbour Petronella (Hannah Stanbridge) who offers him his first glimpse of love, much to disapproval of his overprotective and domineering mother. The lives of all three are soon thrown into disarray as Cathal grows increasingly closer, and a mysterious creature from the shadows (with a set of nasty claws and a slimy, emerald complexion) is disposing of the female residents from the area in brutally horrific ways.

With the majority of the action set around a squalid council estate in Edinburgh, there are definite shades of Red Road here – further established by the casting of that film’s lead Kate Dickie in the mother role here. But where that film’s director Andrea Arnold had a confidence behind the camera, managing to take the same grim inner-city landscape and infuse it with a cinematic quality, Outcast comes across like a small-screen gore-filled episode of Waking the Dead or any other post-9 o’clock BBC/ITV drama. The clichéd and overly-dramatic score (which intrusively signposts every moment of suspense for the audience) doesn’t help to elevate it beyond those comparisons either.

The idea of using Irish folklore and transplanting it in a modern and realistic setting is an intriguing one, but the mythical elements are never satisfyingly explored and the audience is left with only a vague clue as to the creature’s motivations and relevance until the end, where its final reveal can be spotted from a mile away. There’s also a huge character flaw midway through the film when Mary escapes from the clutches of Cathal and casually returns home, failing to reveal to Fergus what has happened, or even attempt to pack their bags and make a quick exit from Edinburgh. Having been on the run for so long, why would she decide to stay put?

Casting a powerful actress like Dickie lends some weight to the project and she manages to convey the idea of a mother whose intimacy towards her offspring may have warped into something more than maternal, and she shares some genuinely creepy and unsavoury moments with her on-screen son. However, feisty Dr Who assistant Karen Gillan is mercilessly given an extremely short screen time here before she’s disposed of (although rather misleadingly, she appears to have been given third billing on the poster)  and Nesbitt does what we can with the material, but he’s never really given the chance to fully let go.

The makers (director Colm McCarthy, sharing screenwriting credits with brother Tom) should be praised for at least attempting to do something different by integrating the look and feel of a British social realist style of filmmaking within a fantasy framework. Unfortunately, Outcast just isn’t engaging enough to make these diverse elements work together as one.