Christina Ricci is one of those actresses who has been both fortunate and unlucky to be perfectly cast in an iconic role from a very young age. As a teenager in the early ’90s, she starred in Wednesday Addams The Addams family and its sequel, and the role haunts them. In the public imagination she will always be a pale, creepy child, at once sinister and endearing, with a touch of Victorian spookyness. It doesn’t help that she’s retained a girlishness well into her 40s, with a tiny, bird-like frame; huge, wide-open eyes; and the precise, buttoned-up manner of a woman who had to grow old before her time.
While contemporary Kirsten Dunst gave her ethereal performance Interview with the vampire In blockbuster leads and art-house acclaim, Ricci was typecast and faded from view much like Winona Ryder had done a decade earlier. It turned out that the solution wasn’t to fight typing, but to embrace it. With her spectacular twist as the sociopathically cheerful loner Misty in the 2021 breakout series Yellow jackets, Ricci eventually exorcised Wednesday Addams by summoning a new demon child to take her place. Misty swaps Ricci’s image but is completely under her control, and she’s full of unexpected comedy, pathos, and wickedness. It’s enough to finally change how people think about Ricci and her career.
This is a good moment for Ricci to take a leading role. She owns every minute of humble creature function Outrageous, a 1950s chiller with a cunning secret. She plays Laura, a bright and demure mother of 7-year-old Cody (Santino Barnard). In 1955, the couple start a new life in a remote California apartment building. Cody is calm but not grumpy while Laura is extremely upbeat. It quickly becomes clear that they fled from a terrible situation. Cody wants to go home, but Laura rules it out. Cody says he forgives his father for the horror he committed, but Laura can’t.
Laura pushes ahead with building a small-town idyll for them, enrolling Cody in school and finding a job as a typist. But Cody is being pursued by something horrific that is trudging out of the lake near the house. Whatever the monster, its appearance is constantly changing: sometimes liquid and oily, sometimes skeletal, sometimes billowing like a mass of pondweed or rotten cloth. It’s creepy stuff. After a terrifying encounter, Cody finds himself more drawn to the lake than repelled. He says “the pretty lady” wants him to join her there. A world collapses for Laura.
Like the great UFO movie of 2020 The vastness of the night, Outrageous riffs on 1950s pulp fiction, Twilight Zone Chills and the mixture of fear and desire, inspired by something strange and unknown that ruffles the smooth surface of a hermetic, orderly society. But where this film told a simple yarn with a bold, lived-in widescreen style, Outrageous
It could be to easy. There is something routine and sluggish about the world the film sets up: the gleaming chrome of Laura’s turquoise suit, the sharp outlines of her A-line skirts, the pin-drop of The Chordettes’ “Mr. Sandman.” In a tune we’ve heard a thousand times, not a note is out of place. Dialogue feels restricted and lifeless, little more than functional, and Ricci initially balks uncomfortably, crushing her performance into a primitive awkwardness. The film comes to life in only a few fleeting moments: in Laura’s oddly testy encounters with the innkeeper and his suspicious wife (Don Baldaramos and Colleen Camp); in a silent, inexplicable long shot of another boy running away from Cody in the playground; and in the appearances of the monster, a multi-faceted creation all the more disturbing because it is so elusive in the mind’s eye.
As it turns out, some of these choices may be intentional. Outrageous is turned on its head at a point in the story that wouldn’t work nearly as well if everything that preceded it wasn’t spoken so deliberately and clearly. The late film selections are effective, but maybe resonate to late to redeem what has come before. If Chrest and Sivertson had invested less in planning this twist and more in crafting the world and the characters that build upon it — or, for that matter, in sensitively and persuasively handling the implications of its closing stages — Outrageous would be a more satisfying film overall.
What Outrageous however, ultimately offers an opportunity to watch Christina Ricci drop the engineered artistry and ferocious control of so many of her performances, giving us something raw and unfiltered. For a moment we see last Wednesday and Misty and even Laura Outrageous haunted us, and see the overwhelmed vulnerability beneath the surface. It’s a moment of truth from an actor who’s usually asked to play with our preconceived notions about them, and it’s a welcome jolt of reality in an otherwise oddly detached little film.