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The Outwaters (Film Review)

4 min read
A scene from The Outwaters

What makes such a popular genre, and also a divisive one, is that fear is subjective. What scares one person, will not scare another, and how fear is represented within the narrative is a thing few filmmakers have mastered.

When one thinks of horror greats, their mind might be drawn to the likes of Wes Craven, John Carpenter, George A Romero, Guillermo Del Toro, Ari Aster, Jordan Peele, or maybe James Wan, but one name sure to be on everyone's lips soon is Robbie Banfitch following his phenomenal directorial debut in .

The found footage sees four friends take a trip to the Mojave Desert to shoot a music video. What starts as a fun break filled with sublime views begins to go awry as the group of campers experiences unexplained sounds, unnatural animal behaviour, and the ground shaking beneath them.

The group finds the phenomena intriguing, if a little unnerving, but they are soon thrust into a mind-bending trip through sheer terror at the hands of an unknown and unforgiving entity.

The tension in The Outwaters builds immediately as the audience is thrown into a distressed emergency call with images of the central characters – Robbie Zagorac (Robbie Banfitch), Ange Bocuzzi (Angela Basolis), Scott Zagorac (Scott Schamell), and Michelle August (Michelle May) – that explains that they are missing and the subsequent footage was recovered from three memory cards.

Michelle May in The Outwaters
Credit: Blue Finch Film Releasing

What follows for the first half of the film are a series of grainy, extreme close-ups of the foursome as they begin their journey to the desert, offering snippets of information about them through minor, yet intimate interactions.

It utilises a rich, vibrant, and warm colour palette that comes naturally to the setting. The cloudless blue sky juxtaposes starkly against the harsh, red sands and the sparse greenery dotted around the terrain. The heat of the sun is brought to life in a series of dreamlike scenes that feel like a mirage, made all the more surreal by the otherworldly events the group begins to experience.

The Outwaters' almost two-hour duration makes this hazy, guarded introduction feel somewhat tedious, but Banfitch rewards viewers' patience with a truly chaotic second half that dials the horror up to 11. What starts as flashing lights, ominous rumbling, and the cry of frantic animals soon devolves into carnage as the group is terrorised by an omnipotent entity.

Where the second half of the film really dials up the ante is in its use of sound. The Outwaters flips from silence to the screaming of the campers – and worms – in a heartbeat, and the cacophony is relentless. Couple this with the onslaught of disturbing, bloody imagery and you'll find yourself feeling ground down and weary from the horror onscreen that simply does not let up.

The found footage genre plays excellently into The Outwaters in the final act of the film, with Banfitch often restricting the audience's view of what is causing the characters such distress with obscure angles and enveloping darkness that sends the imagination wild.

Robbie Banfitch in The Outwaters
Robbie Banfitch in The Outwaters

The Outwaters uses both traditional horror imagery – that of darkness, blood, and gore – as well as unconventional and surreal settings that throws the group, and the viewers, for a loop. Just as you feel like you're starting to get a grip on where the film might be heading, all of that is chucked out of the window in favour of a bit more lunacy.

While we don't find out much about the characters in The Outwaters, they don't feel expendable. The audience is left on edge as you watch them stumble screaming and bloodied from one deranged encounter to the next, and touched as they never lose their human nature in the face of a threat they can barely comprehend.

All of these elements – the surreal imagery, cryptic framing, and hidden scenes leave the audience begging for more – what possible horror could leave a grown adult screaming for their mother? What unknown ghoul has flung us into the family home of one of the campers? Why am I watching this film? Who am I?

The existential dread and unimaginable horrors presented in the film create an experience like no other I have experienced – one that left me feeling physically drained and questioning my very existence after being thrust from one nightmarish situation to another in quick succession.

Both hypnotising and horrifying, The Outwaters perfectly plays on the natural human urge to understand our surroundings and the meaning behind madness as it subverts our expectations of narrative and fear itself, plunging us into the unknown and never letting us out.

The Outwaters comes to cinemas in the UK on April 7.