Director: Robbie Banfitch
Notable Cast: Robbie Banfitch, Angela Basolis, Scott Schamell, Michelle May, Leslie Ann Banfitch
The sight of a silhouetted figure on the desert landscape, holding a very well defined ax as the vista of light fades behind them is the kind of image that many horror films would stake their entire concept on. It’s frightening, dynamic, and memorable. For The Outwaters though, that image comes at the beginning of one hellish trip. It’s at this moment that the film shifts gears from its ultra-realistic set up towards the found footage hellscape that would constitute the visuals of insanity.
In what may be the utmost found footage horror film to define the term ‘found footage,’ The Outwaters is essentially one of those giant water slides at a massive amusement park. It’s a hell of a climb to get up there to the top, a chore of tedium while burning one’s feet on the ground and dealing with a lot of people that all share the same questions about the worthiness of the climb, but once you get on that slide… It's a quick trip through a somewhat suffocating and discombobulating mixture of fear, thrills, and confusion before finding your destination. It just starts with that image of a person silhouetted with an ax right before jumping in the tube.
Granted, when The Outwaters started, I knew nothing of the film. That’s the fun of watching the selections of a genre festival like Panic Fest. Who the fuck knows what you’ll get? And I’ll be honest when I saw that the film was going to fully embrace the found footage element - down to breaking up footage into “memory cards” I was wondering if I may have chosen to go back a dozen years to the height of found footage. Yet, director Robbie Banfitch, who also serves as the main actor, the writer, editor, cinematographer, sound guy, and co-producer, seemingly knows what strengths the style of the film brings to it.
Still, the ultra-realism of its set up - which sees a young filmmaker going to the Mojave Desert to film a low budget music video for a young starlet with his brother and a make-up artist, can still run tedious. The Outwaters’ first 40 minutes plays out like someone’s boring behind the scenes video journal and the subtlety of its characterizations feel almost too uncinematic for a film with such a fantastic low budget poster and tagline. Tagging along with four folks into the desert as they just kind of exist without any real cinematic drama is not necessarily my idea of a good time.
Then, of course, the axe man cometh. It’s that scene where The Outwaters makes its statement as a horror film. Then it proceeds to drag its audience, kicking and screaming, through the desert by the visuals of a pinhole circle of light in darkest night into what might constitute one of the most nightmarish visions of insanity I’ve had the delight to see on film. It’s a visual and auditory assault (seriously, the audio design is glorious) and it leaves no survivors in its wake.
For those that read Lovecraft, you’ll know that the problematic author loves to describe things as indescribable. That the sight of whatever otherworldly monstrosity shown cracks sanity and comprehension in its characters. The Outwaters delivers that feeling in such a robustly and unnerving cinematic way. It’s as if the lead character, broken from the outside in, is the audience and neither one of us could comprehend what the hell is happening at any given moment. Time no longer has any meaning, reference points from the first 40 minutes come clawing back in disjointed ways and screaming intestine snakes whip around on the ground. It’s like watching our main character - or ourselves - descend a few steps below the 9th level of hell. It’s haunting, horrific, and harrowing in all the best ways that found footage can deliver.
To speak more of the experience of The Outwaters betrays just that - the experience. This film is guaranteed to find its cult audience once it’s unleashed and since I had to endure it, I highly recommend that any horror fan try their hand at mentally working through the insanity of The Outwaters.