As a seasoned film viewer, it takes quite an experience to truly rattle me. This is the long-term effects of a lifetime of desensitizing myself by a (possibly unhealthy) overexposure to horror films. I find myself even more impressed when a filmmaker takes a micro-budget and crafts something truly terrifying and transgressive. Just earlier this year, Kyle Edward Ball’s Skinamarink proved to be something of an indie sensation that dominated the horror community conversation for multiple weeks. Now, only one month later, another micro-budget independent horror film has arrived to scar audiences in Robbie Banfitch’s The Outwaters.
The Outwaters is a found-footage film told through the framing device of three SD memory cards. The story follows two brothers, Robbie (Director Robbie Banfitch) and Scott (Scott Schamell), who travel to the Mojave Desert to shoot a music video for their friend and aspiring musician Michelle (Michelle May). However, after arriving at their remote campsite, a strange noise continually awakens the group during the night and they soon plummet into a truly nightmarish situation.
A constant conversation surrounding found-footage horror is the speculation that any found-footage horror film could ever rival The Blair Witch Project. While I wouldn’t quite say that The Outwaters quite reaches the dramatic heights and one-of-a-kind relentless terror of The Blair Witch Project (one of my favorite films of all time), it comes as close as any horror film of its kind has.
This is a scary movie. As I stated at the start of this article, I am not an individual who scares easily and often find myself underwhelmed by the fright factor of some of the more buzz-fueled horror experiences. The Outwaters scared me. More than that, the implications of the horrifying premise burrowed their way under my skin and have been difficult for me to shake. It’s completely unafraid to expose its viewer to transgressive and disturbing imagery. However, like all great found-footage horror, it also leaves much to the viewers’ imagination. A great deal of the horror comes from filling in the gaps.
Lovecraftian horror is a difficult genre to portray in film because H.P. Lovecraft crafted his brand through the notion of forces that exist beyond our own plane of existence. The human mind literally cannot comprehend them because they are so frightening and threatening. As you see in many Lovecraftian works, those forces eventually drive the characters mad. The Outwaters captures that very specific brand of horror in genuinely effective fashion. It is absolutely not for the faint of heart. It left me shaken, and it’s not really an experience I enjoy the thought of putting myself through again.
Despite the high praise of the craft of the scares I have described thus far, I do think there are flaws here. For one, I don’t think anything surrounding the setup of the story involving the music video — and the four lead characters — is all that interesting. It makes it more difficult to swallow considering that the movie doesn’t really start moving until almost an hour into its runtime. This is no fault of the performances or the filmmaking — this group’s interpersonal dynamics aren’t very compelling. I don’t see this as a staple of the found-footage format either, as I find the drama, lore, and character dynamics of The Blair Witch Project to be perfectly executed.
While these flaws might seem rather big, The Outwaters is still a deeply effective and upsetting experience. If you are a viewer who enjoys a film that feels like it chews you up, and spits you back out, then you will likely find a lot to appreciate here. Two months into 2023, and it already feels like a great year for horror. I can’t say The Outwaters is a film that I enjoyed watching, but it isn’t designed to be an enjoyable experience. It’s a film meant to send its viewer to the depths of hell, and on that front, I think it’s a success. It’s a film I survived.
Thank you for reading! What are your thoughts on The Outwaters? Comment down below!
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