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  • Writer's pictureMaxwell J.

The Outwaters (PANIC) Goes Deep in Setting New Standard For Horror

Updated: May 15, 2022

Title: The Outwaters

First Non-Festival Release: TBD

Director: Robbie Banfitch

Writer: Robbie Banfitch

Runtime: 100 Minutes

Starring: Robbie Banfitch, Angela Basolis, Scott Schamell, Michelle May

Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here

This film’s review was written after its screening at the Panic Film Festival in 2022.

A trip to the Mohave Dessert turns deadly for a group of friends shooting a music video. Robbie (Robbie Banfitch) has put considerable effort in planning Michelle’s (Michelle May) production shoot for her first music video. His brother Scott (Scott Schamell) and make-up artist/hometown friend Ange (Angela Basolis) join them for the trip. Once they arrive, a series of mysterious noises and strange phenomena upset the vibes of their picture-perfect desert adventure. What happens next verges on the unexplainable as they are forced into a terrifying foray into darkness. All that remains is their video camera and three memory cards detailing the events that transpired.

The Outwaters depicts a horrific found footage descent into unspeakable primal terror that even H.P. Lovecraft would find disturbing.

Thanks to lengthy introductions, the audience is generally introduced and endeared to the crew by the time things turn deadly. Robbie is the sole handler of the camera, so his story and characterization is deeper and more identifiable to viewers. Before the story accelerates, we learn much about Robbie: how the death of his father has shaken him, that he holds a strong relationship with his mother, unlike his brother, and that he is sensitive to powerful stimuli as evident by his reaction to the sensory overload triggered by the L.A. earthquakes.Getting this intimate with the lead helps evoke a strong sympathy response when things inevitably head south.

Each actor in The Outwaters believably sells their role both in the sheer panic and terror of their situation. The more mundane and human events that build to those moments creates a stark contrast to the terror that unfolds later. These people look and act like they would be friends in real life. There is a gentleness in how they interact implying a greater intimacy than what unfolds on camera. Without this spark of genuineness, any found footage film would crumble underneath the pressure of its parameters.

Once the horror kicks in, The Outwaters abandons a linear and straightforward plot with a nightmarish trip through space and time. Audiences may be deceived when the typical trappings of found footage films lace the beginning. With a few subversions of expectations later, a different film unfolds entirely in the most gruesome and cerebral of ways. The unexpected becomes the new expectation when Robbie descends into madness over the course of his ordeal. Deliberate pacing and the film’s consistently menacing tone sell this transformation believably. What makes The Outwaters more terrifying than typical horror movies is its precarious balancing act of showing just enough to whet the appetite of its viewers and implying just the same, allowing for enough scattered stimuli to let audiences piece together the cosmic horrors all on their own.

Due to the assault of imagery, sounds, and other overwhelming elements of The Outwaters, the need for top notch editing is crucial. Thankfully, Banfitch (who serves as the film’s sole writer, director, cinematographer, sound designer, effects supervisor, and editor) controls the onslaught in a purposeful and nightmarish direction. While the film does lean on the long end of found footage films, every part feels necessary to effectively showcase the terror that unfurls. The rapid succession of shots in the second half of the film is both unnerving and encompassing of the greater effect the film hopes to have on the audience.

The Outwaters vacillates between the terrors of vast, open spaces and the claustrophobic unknown. By day, the jewel toned desert gives the illusion of safety, taunting the protagonists with the promise of salvation. At night, however, the confines of a video camera and the circular beam of a flashlight are all the assistance given to our characters as they wonder aimlessly in the dark to avoid certain death. Unforgiving sound design booms and squeals in the most unnatural of manners giving credence to the fact that there is something profoundly wrong in the desert. These sounds not only repeat but alter throughout the course of the film crescendoing into a sonorous choir worthy of Lovecraftian designation.

Chock full of haunting and bizarre imagery, The Outwaters assaults every sense with the care of an F5 tornado. Guts spill, limbs are removed, and blood soaks the sand in the hot summer sun. Featuring some of the most gut-wrenching body horror and creature effects, the horror never quite abates when glimpses of new monstrosities and unexplainable sights relentlessly bombard the screen.

Soundtracks can be distracting in horror if they are curated for the wrong reasons. The Outwaters has a unique and eclectic soundtrack that definitely fits the tone. A pet peeve of mine is when found footage films utilize soundtracks as it does hamper the believability that the footage presented is untampered and found as is. It is a small annoyance due to its place in the overall story in an otherwise fantastic film.

It takes a lot for a film to blow me away, but The Outwaters delivers with quite possibly the most bizarre and visceral horror experiences of the year. Its tantalizing spiral into the unknown begs the audience to ask what horrors could possibly come next. Stylistically innovative and narratively creative, The Outwaters will inevitably set the standard for found footage horror for years to come. Destined for a polarizing future, this film is truly the real deal and whatever minor complaints I do have are nothing compared to the respect I have for chances it takes. When the time comes, embark on an adventure into the unknown and visit The Outwaters.

Overall Score? 9/10

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