Directed by: Robbie Banfitch
Written by: Robbie Banfitch
Starring: Robbie Banfitch, Angela Basolis, Scott Schamell, Michelle May
Year: 2022
Country:  USA
Running time: 110mins
BBFC Classification: 18

Whether it’s a good or bad one, depending on how you feel about the film (and one’s tolerance for found footage), The Outwaters is definitely one thing: an experience. Certainly a film of two halves, with one bland and overlong and the other daringly creative and often terrifying, filmmaker Robbie Banfitch (who writes, directs, edits, stars, and music composes!) certainly cuts his own path in the horror/found footage genre.

The flick opens with a terrifying 911 call which features several characters screaming at the top of their lungs with disturbing, indecipherable sounds in the background. The dispatcher desperately tries to get the caller to tell her what’s going on but to no avail. We then cut to the title and a graphic telling us that the Mojave police department have collected the memory cards from the cameras of a filmmaker and his friends who have recently disappeared in the desert. Police are assembling the recovered footage into chronological order which then plays out for the remainder of the film. At first it is a gentle, though touch douchey, travelogue of filmmaker Robbie and his friend traveling to the desert to make a music video. But, non-surprisingly, things turn into something much more sinister, bloody, and often, downright terrifying.

With the truly unsettling prologue the film sets itself up for epic terror potential. We know bad shit is going to happen to this crew, but it takes a while to get to it. In fact, if feels like it takes an age, as at almost 2 hours in runtime (surely a cardinal sin for a found footage film!) we spend a lot of time “getting to know” Robbie and his friends. Well, not so much as getting to know as watching them say little, do little, sings some songs, take some drugs, and wander about aimlessly in the desert. They’re somewhat insufferably hipster/pleased with themselves with only Angie, who is there to do hair and make-up, coming off as likeable. Maybe this is the point as when the suffering is unleashed on the group maybe we are supposed to be perversely glad it’s happening?! Surely not, as it’s always good to get to know your characters before hell is unleashed on them but the first 45 minutes or so of The Outwaters could be difficult to get through for even the most patient.

But stick with it. Come the second half, events take a disturbing turn as the group soon realise, they should have done much more research into the location they decided to camp and film in. Thunderous noises are heard through the night, a constant humming begins, a bright light appears in the sky (a tear in sky as one character calls it!) and then the foursome is seemingly plunged into perpetual darkness. Things get crazier and very, very bloody from there on out as our “hero” Robbie now wanders through this continual dark-scape witnessing weirder and weirder things and becoming ever weirder and weirder himself.

Have they descended into hell, another dimension or are they simply making the most fucked up music video while on drugs? Ok, so maybe they’re not making a music video anymore! Of course, as is often the way, things are not really explained and left on an ambiguous cliffhanger leaving the viewer to make up their own mind. There are hints peppered throughout about what is happening but this ambiguity, coupled with the previous hour of not-much-happening, will mean one will no doubt either love or hate The Outwaters. There’s certainly potential squandered for seemingly the sake of making things a little too arty and ambiguous for their own good, as if this had been a tight 70 – 80 minutes, the flick really could have been a taught terror trip.

However, what Banfitch does achieve, on a budget no less, is delivering some truly unsettling images and suggestions of gigantic cosmic horror and eternal damnation with showing very little. While the shaky camera work of the first half leaves something to be desired for, the only catching glimpses of bloody terror and big things in the dark seen through the limited range of a single flashlight is highly effective. Along with the constant screaming, stark sound design and pretty much everything and everyone slathered in blood, goo, and grime, The Outwaters does excel at creating the unnerving feeling of otherworldly horror!

An infuriating experience for sure but one that certainly pays off (for this viewer anyway) in the second half delivering effective perceptions and images of fever dream nihilistic horror. Along with this year’s Skinamarink (which slightly pips this as the better low-fi, don’t-see-much, horror!) 2023 is shaping up to be an interesting year for cosmic horror mind-fucks.

The Outwaters is in cinemas 7 April and on digital 8 May, 2023.

The Outwaters
Andrew Skeates reviews the new polarizing found footage horror, The Outwaters.
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"To tell you the truth I don't think this is a brains kind of operation." Way of the Gun (2000)

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