In found footage films, sometimes preambles matter. There aren’t rules to follow in this regard, and sometimes you may find yourself trying to solve the riddle from the beginning and sometimes it’s just filling. In the most clever ones, the first act contains hints and information that matter in the end. Just look at how in The Blair Witch Project, a key piece of information is given and then used in the very last shot of the film.
In Robbie Banfitch’s The Outwaters, that beginning is supposed to be a soothing balm before the storm hits. A damaged relationship between a filmmaker’s brother and their mother, a grieving singer trying to overcome tragedy, and the innocent companion that just wants to help. It’s definite calm before what Banfitch has designed as a horrific experience of death, solitude, and oblivion. As it should happen with found footage films, it’s not terribly long of an introduction to a film that needs no introduction.
However, it holds some information that could help you make your own statement about what The Outwaters really is. I’ll try to keep spoiler-free but nevermind. This is one film that, no matter how much I tell you, you won’t imagine how impactful it’s supposed to be and how menacing it ends up being.
The setting is simple: There’s a group of friends that decide to help a young starlet shoot a music video in a remote part of the desert. Two of them are brothers, a friend will help with hair and makeup, and a singer will try to look beautiful. In the center, Robbie begins by putting together an audiovisual backdrop. Sort of an artsy documentary. The first night they camp, booming thunderstorms wake them up, but no water at all. It’s all of a symphony of cracking thunder and eerie sounds. Regardless, nobody questions much. The second night? Stuff happens.
It’s hard to describe The Outwaters. It’s almost experimental. But there’s a story here and we must respect that. The second half is exclusively told from the perspective of Robbie who for some reason after getting attacked, never stops recording. Robbie goes into the night and steps into a personal version of hell, with demonic sounds, and a dryland of absolute nothingness. His partners scream in agony in a sonic background that can mean nothing but death.
Trying to solve this is hopeless. This is not one of those things. Banfitch has cleverly put together a series of scenes, images and sounds that can represent many things. From time loops to space paradoxes, Robbie has stepped into a beautiful opera house of cosmic horror that keeps getting renewed every time he opens his eyes.
We could endlessly discuss what The Outwaters and your opinion would be different and valid. Only Banfitch holds the truth and he probably will never share it. This kind of power is dangerous by filmmakers is a much deserved prize after being able to form whole, unimaginable worlds. They are the reason why horror keeps getting renewed and we have to thank them for that.
Not to say The Outwaters is a pleasant film because it’s not. I watched it twice and I probably will see it again in a few years, but for now it feels like plenty. This is an experience in horror that just shakes and leaves you out of breath like all films should. I can’t wait to see what Banfitch does next.