New Found-Footage Horror Effectively Confounds

DIRECTED BY ROBBIE BANFITCH/2023 (U.S. Theatrical Release)

To be singular is infrequent, to be indefinable is rare. The Outwaters is both. An ineffable and nearly unanalyzable descent into insanity that I found to be a refreshing and absorbing take on the genre. 

The Outwaters is a found-footage, horror film shot in the expansive Mojave Desert with a group of friends. The film is directed by and starring Robbie Banfitch; his only feature-length film (also starring Angela Basolis, Michelle May, Scott Schamell and Leslie Ann Banfitch) in which he also does much of its editing. 

At face-value, this sounds like something we may have seen before – reminding me a bit of VHS 99’s short To Hell and Back from Vanessa and Joseph Winter or the eerie cellphone footage scene from Joel Anderson’s Lake Mungo. The difference with The Outwaters, however, is Banfitch’s ability to tap into something a lot of horror movies fail to properly depict – isolating yet expansive, crowded yet empty, monstrous yet human. Banfitch’s unrelenting sonic touches give an auditory, olfactory, and tactile experience that most films couldn’t achieve with a 4D release.

The Outwaters feels like an amalgamation of horror movies we’ve seen before – with the added flair of Banfitch’s unyielding third act of inescapable insanity. We are reminded of the found-footage classic The Blair Witch Project or the overlapping universes of Coherence and The EndlessThe descent into Hell of As Above/So Belowand the unrelenting wetness from classics like Evil Dead. While it is exciting to see sprinkles of these movies within a new project, it is also equally important to note the shift happening within horror right now and the newness that young directors are bringing to the genre. The terrifying ambient energy of experimental and experiential horror films, such as newcomer Skinamarink, may be taking our genre by storm. I’m keeping my finger on the Robbie Banfitch and Kyle Edward Ball pulse, to be sure, and I’m yelling, “Keep ‘em coming!” 

It’s inarguable that this movie will receive push-back from general audiences. Movies that don’t put a precedent on a through-line narrative are at risk of isolating a large percentage of viewers. There were points within the film that I wanted Banfitch to throw me a bone so badly – please, just a drop of insight within the ocean that is the hellscape of The Outwaters. While I most definitely don’t feel like he spoon-fed his audience, we were left with an easter egg hunt throughout the film that led to natural ‘conclusions’ being drawn by the third-act. Without spoiling anything, you could call this a cosmic-horror film with touches of unfortunate real-life Dyatlov Pass-ian qualities.

Would I recommend The Outwaters to the average, general movie audience? Probably not. Would I recommend The Outwaters to horror fans? Absolutely. The right people will find this and either enjoy it or, at the very least, find the beauty in its craft – wanting to feelscared and not necessarily know why. These horror enthusiasts, filmmakers and consumers alike, are going to continue driving this era of horror, opening up opportunities for crowd-funded newcomers and resulting in more project realizations. In the same way that recommending this movie comes with many of its own difficulties and caveats, rating it is proving to be even more difficult. My rating is: ‘please continue making these movies’. I will be the first to buy the tickets every time.