If you’re interested in genre film, you’ve probably heard some shouting and screaming about Robbie Banfitch’s bold nightmarish debut; The Outwaters. After storming the fest circuit in 2022, The Outwaters has kept popping up and with a surprising lack of info or spoilers which have helped it maintain the air of a cult curio. In all honesty it’s a film you need to track down ASAP because its easily going to be one of the best of the year.
Put together on a shoestring budget, The Outwaters begins with a 999-emergency call and a title card telling us that the next 110 mins are recordings, found in the Mojave Desert on three memory cards. The group who recorded them are still missing.
When you strip the sub-genre back to basics it’s always at its most potent: The Blair Witch Project, The Silent House, Horror in the High Desert, and recently Skinamarink have all hit gold by capturing that primal terror of believing that what we are watching is a real, unedited, pure recording. There’s a lot to be said for pointing a small torch beam into pitch blackness and letting the audience squirm in anticipation. It’s exploitative, perhaps, but it scares too well to scoff at.
It’s not just about scaring us though, The Outwaters wants us to feel something too, a kind of depressing isolation and grief that takes masterful control of atmosphere to pull off. It’s tough to imprint the isolation of a character onto the viewer, but The Outwaters proves to be a perfect cocktail for achieving that. The dizzying visuals, the glimpses of something, the near apocalyptic sounds on the horizon, dream-like looping of events, and that’s without mentioning the starker stuff.
So Banfitch’s aspirations are chalk-and-cheese to most of the Found Footage features we’ve experienced the last few years. Sure, he wants to scare us (and he does with great success) but he also doesn’t give a fuck about doing it in a traditional or cathartic way. He trusts us to either piece it together, or be content with the full throttle vibes of this nightmarish tone-poem.
The Outwaters’ primary weapons are suggestion and disorientation, weapons which Banfitch wields with glee. Quickly the dreamy holiday beginnings succumb to macabre intrusions and we’re stuck in a loop of viscera-stained sands and barely-glimpsed brutality. While all this goes on, bizarre screaming snakes slither by, strange lights strobe the night, and lightless thunder booms across the empty desert. What started as a road film to film an airy-fairy bohemian music video, twists and convulses itself into a wretched nightmare, the last 5 minutes of which will end up being inducted into the lexicon of iconic horror finales. Rarely does shock strike so hard, or credits roll in such deafening silence.
Folks who don’t enjoy narrative murk, who prefer clarity, could find the film irritating. But if you get your kicks with pure atmosphere and don’t mind being force-fed horrifying pandemonium of an almost cosmic variety, there’s a good chance you’ll absolutely love The Outwaters. Pitch perfect horror.
Dir. Robbie Banfitch
Stars. Robbie Banfitch, Angela Basolis, Scott Schamell, Michelle May, Leslie Ann Banfitch