The Outwaters Review


We review Robbie Banfitch’s micro-budget, found footage horror movie that almost reinvents the sub-genre.

Plot: The film plays out over three memory cards found in a sun-drenched section of the Mojave Desert. The footage is of a group of four people who attempt to make a music video in a tent, under the guidance of an LA filmmaker. Although their trip is uneventful, they are occasionally disturbed by strange sounds, vibrations and unnatural animal behavior. Then one night everything changes, sending the foursome on a mind-bending trip through terror.

Review: Found footage is a tricky genre. There have been many attempts to use the handheld camera approach to found footage since The Blair Witch Project in 1999. Only a few films have succeeded. From Paranormal Activity and V/H/S to REC and Cloverfield, movies presented as found footage have been dominated by grainy VHS camcorders or night vision security cameras. Found footage is Hollywood’s dream because it can be made on a small budget and can potentially make millions of dollars. These movies lack quality storytelling and rely on jump scares. The Outwaters aims to reinvent the found footage format by presenting a terrifying story that does not shy away from brutal scares and moments that will have viewers asking what the hell they just saw.

Releasing just about a month after the divisive Skinamarink, The Outwaters was produced for just $15,000 and has been racking up critical acclaim. I was able to see the Outwaters in action before it opened in theaters this weekend.The Outwatersis presented as three memory card containing the last recordings of a group that disappeared in the Mojave desert. The Outwaters

is not packaged with the assembled footage. The film is simply the linear contents of the memory card without any commentary or presentation. The movie’s first act serves to introduce and develop the characters. Robbie Banfitch, the writer/director of found footage horror films does a great job of making these characters worthwhile investments by giving them nuance and unique traits that make them worth more than just bloodshed and gore.

Character development is difficult, especially in this genre. However, Banfitch establishes the story in the first act. Robbie Zagorac (Banfitch), and Scott Schamell (Scott Schamell), head out into the desert to film an Angela Bocuzzi music video (Angela Basolis) music video. Michelle August (Michelle May), their make-up assistant, joins them as they camp in the desert. We watch them prepare for their journey. We learn that Scott has distanced from his mother, while Angela is grieving her mom. They have fun filming in the desert until the first night when strange, pulsing sounds outside their tents. We see very little, so we rely on sound design or editing to make us feel frightened and to help us visualize what might be happening outside. The story progresses to the second card and the foursome begin to experience more disturbing sounds and visuals. There are strange animals congregating near them and surreal mirages further away. Outwaters builds very slowly, similar to The Blair Witch Project,

but with the added clarity of the HD camera and the stark, blazing desert sun. The camcorder’s flash is limited and obscures what the characters see at night. Banfitch changes the rules completely when we see the contents of the third card. What started as a slow-burn exercise of atmospherics becomes a Lovecraftian nightmare in which we can only see a fraction of what the characters see. The Outwaters forces us into absorbing even more haunting sounds, which cannot be mistaken as anything other than the brutal tearing and breaking of flesh and bones. This is when the film becomes something I didn’t expect. You have to suspend your disbelief when you watch a movie like this. You may question why characters keep filming when horrible atrocities are happening around them or even why the person filming is covered in blood, yet the camera lens remains clean, but if you can suspend your disbelief and go along with what is happening on screen, you will find yourself falling into a genuinely unsettling visual experience.The less said about what happens in The Outwaters, the better; it deserves to be experienced as freshly as possible. Each of the film’s beautiful moments are directly tied to horrifically brutal horrors. Many of these horrors I don’t know if I saw them or if I imagined them. Robbie Banfitch is a master of obfuscating the effects on screen, forcing the audience to picture the monster as a bloody mouth and slithering tail. The eerie music score by Salem Belladonna completes the creepy atmosphere. It transforms from a suggestion of terror into a true horror for the final 45 minutes. Although I don’t know what happened, I know that I will be interpreting it differently from others who see it. But, as much debate and conversation that The Outwaters will generate, the film’s final ten minutes are amongst the most gruesome and uncomfortable moments in any horror film I have ever seen.The Outwaters,

like Skinamarink, is not the type of movie that will win over everyone. This movie is deliberately disturbing and demands your attention. While the definition of scary varies from person to person. This movie will require you to join the ride. Robbie Banfitch uses found footage to tell a story that is unlike any other. This may be our closest encounter with the horrors of H.P. Lovecraft-esque story. The Outwaters is a disturbing and visceral movie that can make you feel scared. This film is a winner and one my favorite film experiments. Go in with your expectations in check and give yourself over to the story, and there is little chance you will walk away unaffected by The Outwaters.8

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