By GRACE DETWILER
Content Warning: Self Harm
Starring Robbie Banfitch, Angela Basolis, Michelle May
Written and Directed by Robbie Banfitch
Cinedigm, Bloody Disgusting, Screambox
What starts off as an attempt to resurrect the naturalistic found-footage style of sub-genre giant The Blair Witch Project, disintegrates into a bloody waking nightmare for a group of friends who travel into the Mojave desert to film a music video. THE OUTWATERS pays homage to its inspirations – using a missing poster in the publicity materials and the actors’ real first names as their character names. Yet, that is where the comparisons end, as what happens in the film’s second half is even more unclear than the final five minutes of Blair Witch.
In familiar found-footage fashion, THE OUTWATERS begins with a deeply chilling 911 call, followed by title cards that identify the missing young people and label the memory card footage as police property. Separated into several different memory cards, the first few chapters of THE OUTWATERS do a fantastic job of introducing the audience to the four leads – all before the second half of the film rips them to shreds. We meet cameraman Robbie (Banfitch), his brother Scott (Scott Schamell), his best friend Angela (Basolis), and the independent singer/songwriter Michelle (May). In order to connect to the memory of her mother, who was also a singer, Michelle wants to record a music video in the Mojave desert, where she hopes to have a spiritual experience that will allow her to find closure following her mother’s death. Be careful what you wish for, Michelle!
Woefully unprepared for what will befall them, the quartet heads out into the desert for several nights of camping while the video is filmed. Angela tags along as Michelle’s stylist, and Scott seeks a change of scenery to inspire his writing. What follows will either terrify or bore you; the remainder of the film follows Robbie and his flashlight as he runs through the pitch-dark desert, listening to the screams of his blood-soaked companions. Among the threats they face are Lovecraftian tentacles/worms, one of their own wielding an axe, and a tear in the fabric of reality itself.
The “tear” or “rip” in space-time that the group encounters not only corrupts their minds but even allows Robbie and his camera to travel through a wormhole of sorts, which takes him to another dimension: a nightmarish version of his family home. It is these sequences, perhaps, which have critics drawing comparisons between THE OUTWATERS and the recent pseudo-found-footage film Skinamarink. While Skinamarink lacks the single-camera POV of a true found-footage film, the comparisons are apt given the reality-bending entity that harasses the protagonists of both films. Viewers who enjoyed the experimental filmmaking of Skinamarink are sure to enjoy THE OUTWATERS as well, which is posed to ride the wave of indie horror enthusiasm generated by the former.
THE OUTWATERS will likely be most effective for viewers who are strongly affected by the power of suggestion. The film contains very little overt violence – excluding the extremely gory climax – instead relying on the fear evoked by the buckets of blood and the dialogue itself. Said climax will either be received as a satisfying payoff or a gratuitous use of shock-violence, depending on individual taste. THE OUTWATERS’ greatest failing, however, is also its greatest success. Writer/director/star Robbie Banfitch has a clear talent for character development, which is thrown out the window as soon as the true horror begins. Yet, getting to know his cast of characters only makes watching their annihilation more gut-wrenching in the end.
THE OUTWATERS will open in select theaters beginning February 9 from Cinedigm and Bloody Disgusting. Following its theatrical run, it will stream exclusively on Screambox.