The Outwaters Review

The Outwaters
The Outwaters

The Outwaters is one of those found-footage horror films that stand out in a sea of monotonousness we have been witnessing for a while now. Let me go ahead and tell you that this film is not for everyone, as it has certain similarities to the recent paranormal activity movies like Skinamarink which may cause harm to some people. In this movie, writer, director and actor Robbie Banfitch makes an attempt to do what Terrence Malick did but in a more experimental way by giving us this cosmic horror experience with just minor touches of H.P. Lovecraft- so long as you can put up with the slow first half that lulled us into thinking it was just another California love fest – and saying “mixed” would be an understatement.

Banfitch plays cameraman and tour guide Robbie Zagorac — a Los Angeles native who heads off into the Mojave Desert to make a music video. Along for the ride are guitarist and brother Scott (Scott Schamell), presumed longtime friend and beautician for the shoot Ange (Angela Basolis) and last but not least, angelic vocalist Michelle (Michelle May). There’s almost no back story given here except what gets filmed on Robbie’s camera because Banfitch doesn’t believe in explaining too much through his script. What goes down on screen – from earthquakes in Los Angeles to other weird stuff happening after isolation has become sandy-dry – is completely open-ended therefore feel free to interpret Banfitch’s vile visual bombardment any way you’d like.

The Outwaters is a hallucinatory experiment predominantly reliant upon auditory horror, purposefully bewildering its audience and throwing them into complete mystery with only little details. Banfitch does imply something evil throughout his direction as he begins to use radio feedback or music coming from amplifiers being played so there’s at least something ominous about it all which suggests that Robbie’s documentary will go from heartwarming to horrifying. It’s all very hands-off though – and that is still vague and inconclusive as well. Some people will hate this approach, but Banfitch’s exceptionally existential style of fear and destruction worked for me in the end because I found the unknown terror too close to home.

When he puts on his director hat, Banfitch takes painting and sound into a nightmare world. Robbie faces everything from stubborn mules blocking his party’s passage to sharpened axes embedded in piles of rubble while Michelle’s lyrics and Scott’s guitar playing become more than soothing background tunes evoking horror through sound. Robbie moves his camera in unconventional ways that flip perspectives or zooms so tight they become disconcerting, which starts off as artistic but turns scary when the tone of the film heats up to near boiling point. This is at its most feverish, most desperate, when it becomes anonymous — dripping with blood while wailing unheard animal noises — The Outwaters plunges headlong into madness without a parachute.

At its worst, it relies on the most inexplicable departures from conventional horror narratives. In The Outwaters, Robbie’s just a pinprick of light in the dark, pitch blackness but even that is taken away when he runs away and leaves all we can see in the dark or switches the lights off giving us nothing but a blank screen with Horror Movie Sounds™ playing over it. And once you’re committed there isn’t much more to know – Robbie’s relationship with his family members, a sense of alienation from society and the curse that plagues that desert place are not developed overtly. Banfitch tries making ASMR horror out of autotuned death shrieks performed against bleak nature scenes which is not reason enough for a film to be almost 120 minutes long.

Almost half of this book is spent describing some random thoughts about Scott (a brother who seems distant), Ange (a reunion between besties), Michelle (a muse of sorts) at different times. Here comes a time when he shuffles around their campsite, goes through everything again in his head using recent memories, doing so barefoot while rocks cut into him and loud booms like artillery fire off constantly.

My analysis is hung because Banfitch has these stimulating and refreshing ideas about what shapes horror films can take – this one rather amorphous and out of reach – yet does nothing to stabilize his ambitions. It’s punk rock believing in himself as an artist rather than pandering to the public’s taste buds. I don’t think Banfitch should ever try another thing with The Outwaters; that doesn’t mean I’m immune to feeling colder than average towards something as wildly unperceived as this. Almost instantly following Robbie into Hell as if Hunter S. Thompson invites us into his worst trip on LSD around the campfire would virtually erase every other movie’s “build up.” Ponderous psychological horror meets gory slasher intentions for the most daring movie fans, as well as for those who love horror so much but are disappointed by the fact that it is not more narrative and understandable.


An interesting and original new voice can be heard with the Outwaters, whatever side of the boat you end up on, writer/director/lead actor Robbie Banfitch will have had his say. Maybe you’ll love this endless montage of appalling scenes flashing across the screen or get lost in sounds that would keep Charles Manson awake at night. Or maybe you’ll just find yourself exhausted and quickly switching it off as a disastrous music video shoot without any conductor to guide it or keep it together. The Outwaters will receive responses ranging from absolute praise to scorched-earth repulsion both of which are acceptable. My position lies somewhere between these two extremes since I’m impressed with Banfitch’s boldness although some of his choices leave me cold. However, one thing is certain – regardless of this movie’s reception, The Outwaters must be watched to be believed.

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