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The Outwaters Review

February 1, 2023 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
The Outwaters Image Credit: Cinedigm
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The Outwaters Review  

Directed by: Robbie Banfitch
Written by: Robbie Banfitch

Robbie Banfitch – Robbie Zegorac
Angela Basolis – Ange Bocuzzi
Scott Schamell – Scott Zegorac
Michelle May – Michelle August
Leslie Ann Banfitch – Leslie Zegorac
Aro Caitlin – Aro Aguilar
Christine Brown – 911 Operator

Image Credit: Cinedigm Films

Running Time: 110 minutes
Not Rated

The horror genre moves in cycles, and there is a strong argument to be made that 2023 could be the year that liminal horror breaks into the mainstream for films in the genre. The concept of transitional spaces and aesthetics isn’t a particularly new one within the genre – horror games have been trafficking in the inherent creepiness of large empty spaces that evoke that strange mix of nostalgia and discomfort or a while, and films like The Shining, It Follows, and Pulse have used liminality to keep audiences on edge.

But this year seems particularly primed for liminality to go big. January saw the arrival of the long-hyped Skinamarink, which took a non-narrative approach to horror with effective if polarizing results. The Outwaters is right along those vibes. Robbie Banfitch gives the found footage genre a shock to the system with a trip to the desert that rips open the world, sending its characters (and the audience) on a trip straight to hell in the film, which arrives in theaters on February 9th and will stream on Scremabox following its theatrical run.

The Outwaters gives its audience a preview of what to expect right off the bat, as we kick off with a 911 call punctuated by panicked screaming and rambling as photos of our characters display. All four are listed as having been missing since August 2017. We then dive into the video evidence collected in a series of memory cards from brothers Robbie (Banfitch), and Scott (Scott Schamell) as they go out into the Mojave desert to shoot a music video for their friend Michelle (Michele May), with Robbie’s friend Ange (Angela Basolis) coming out to do makeup on the shoot. Considering these cards are police evidence, it’s not a hard guess to say that things don’t go as planned.

Banfitch takes his time getting to the horror in his film, as he takes the time to invest in his characters. Comparisons to The Blair Witch Project will most certainly be made, but it’s only particularly apt in terms of the found footage format and the way both films delve into the inherent creepiness on the edges of our field of vision. Banfitch notably doesn’t lean into heavy drama in the extended opening act; we get to know our characters, who aren’t recklessly running off to investigate some tale of ghosts or abandoned asylum or the like. They come off as real and sympathetic people, thanks in no small part to the natural performances given by the four actors.

But most importantly, the opening act eases the audience into the film before things get crazy. And crazy they get; there is a fairly quick transition as Robbie and company hear strange booming noises at night and encounter other strange phenomena before an encounter with a shadowy figure sends things descending into pure chaos and madness. Banfitch wastes little time in ripping the Band-Aid off and pushing the audience straight into an auditory and visual assault that makes up the remainder of the film.

One of the things that makes found footage so effective is how the format keeps the horror right on the edges of what you can see. We can only see what the characters can, and our need to look further helps put us on edge. Banfitch takes that to an extreme as an often-narrow beam of light gives us glimpses of cosmic horror unleashing around us. An intense sound design amplifies things and what we can’t see keeps us as on the edge as what we can.

The disorienting experience is amplified by the non-narrative nature of what’s going on. Banfitch refuses to give us much explanation; we’re along for the ride into insanity, and the wild journey includes splashes of blood, squiggly creatures and only vague hints as to what’s going on. This is almost certainly going to divide audiences, but Banfitch is far more interested in dropping his audience into the experience than explaining what’s happening.

The result is something akin to a nightmare, with the worst imagery kept in quick flashes at the edge of our periphery as anxiety grows. It’s all likely to be an intensely frustrating experience for some, to be sure. Those who don’t like the shaky cam and improvised approach of found footage are unlikely to find their minds changed here.

That said, for those who are willing to go along with it there’s a lot to enjoy. Banfitch dips straight into hell with some sequences that are absolute nightmare fuel, and the squishy, slurpy audio – punctuated with booms and screams – effectively underscores much of what we see on the screen. The early first act normality lures the audience in and puts us at a sense of ease, which just amplifies the boundary-pushing madness of what’s to follow. The effect is unnerving in a way that, love it or hate it, you’re unlikely to forget for a long time.

The Outwaters releases in theaters on February 9th, and will stream exclusively on Screambox following its theatrical run.

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
Robbie Banfitch's The Outlanders will test the patience of those viewers who rely on a straightforward narrative, not to mention those who dislike the conventions of found footage. For fans of experiential horror though, this is a system-shocking triumph that shucks conventional wisdom. Diving full-tilt into the cosmic and lineal branches of horror, this descent into bloody madness is a singular vision that you won't soon forget.

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The Outwaters, Jeremy Thomas