The Movie Waffler New to Shudder - THE OUTWATERS | The Movie Waffler

New to Shudder - THE OUTWATERS

New to Shudder - THE OUTWATERS
film crew heads to the Mojave desert to shoot a music video, only to be menaced by mysterious forces.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Robby Banfitch

Starring: Robby Banfitch, Angela Basolis, Scott Schamell, Michelle May, Leslie Ann Banfitch, Aro Caitlin

The Outwaters poster

Writer/director Robbie Banfitch's The Outwaters will likely prove as divisive as the recent indie horror hit Skinamarink. Like that movie it asks a lot of the viewer, requiring you to fill in gaps with your imagination. Some will appreciate such an intellectual exercise while others will argue that such an idea is the antithesis of cinema. Why work in a visual medium if your storytelling requires the audience to conjure up their own mental images?

The Outwaters review

While Skinamarink was somewhat adjacent to found footage with its collage of grainy, static shots, The Outwaters is a full on found footage thriller of the sort that were so popular in the decade or so following the runaway success of Paranormal Activity. It opens with audio of a frantic 911 call as photographs of four missing people are displayed on the screen. These are our protagonists. Filmmaking brothers Robbie (Banfitch) and Scott (Scott Schamell) head out to the Mojave desert with make-up artist and costume designer Angela (Angela Basolis) to shoot a music video featuring singer Michelle (Michelle May). The dates on screen tell us that the quartet went missing in 2017, but Robbie's camera and three memory cards were recovered five years later.

The ensuing movie consists of footage from the three memory cards. The first one mostly features random clips of the four friends meeting up, visiting family, getting caught in earth tremors and just hanging out. It lasts a patience testing 40 minutes and could have easily been condensed down to 10 minutes. Things liven up on the second memory card, with the group now in the desert. This is where it all begins to get weird. They're woken up at night, Blair Witch style, by booming noises whose origin they can't quite figure out. Is it thunder coming from the sky, or is it emanating from beneath the earth?

The Outwaters review

Over the course of the following day there are more strange occurrences. An axe is found embedded in a rock. That night, with the weird sounds returning, a figure is glimpsed in the distance holding said implement. Robbie approaches the stranger...and then things go full on batshit crazy. The movie's final act is a descent into madness that features Lovecraftian monsters, screaming snakes, self-mutilation and buckets of gore, with Robbie and the others slipping and sliding in ocre when they're not vomiting gallons of the red stuff. Of course, most of this is barely glimpsed as Robbie's camera pans across the night time desert in headache inducing fashion. That's until the gory climax, which plays out in blazing sunlight so we see exactly how consumed by madness our protagonist has become.

Some have raved about The Outwaters, and not just the sort of gorehounds who are easily pleased by seeing buckets of guts sploshed around. Like Skinamarink, it's been praised as an intellectual exercise, a thinking man's found footage horror. I guess I'm just not a thinking man then, as I found it an ordeal. To begin with, I simply didn't care about the characters because despite spending so much time in their company we never really get to know them. And then there's the limitations of the found footage format, which is rarely accommodating of suspense because the audience only sees what the camera wielding protagonist sees. Suspense is generated by giving the audience information that's literally been suspended from the protagonist - who's behind them, what's behind the door etc - but in most found footage movies the protagonist and the audience have an equal amount of information. This results in movies where we feel dragged along by the narrative, rather than engaging with it. Paranormal Activity was revolutionary in devising a clever way of bucking this by having its protagonists set up their camera while they slept, allowing the viewer to see all the spooky goings on that they're oblivious to.

The Outwaters review

With its minimal crew and desert setting, The Outwaters feels very much like a product of the pandemic. I suspect dozens of similar horror movies were shot during the lockdown, and the success of Skinamarink and The Outwaters will likely see a few of them snapped up by eager distributors. A new wave of lo-fi horror may be on the way. Whether this is a positive or not remains to be seen, or perhaps barely glimpsed.

The Outwaters is on Shudder UK/ROI now.