Found footage is a tough-to-love subgenre that often relies heavily on tropes, but The Outwaters embraces the format and stands out as a particularly scary, depraved entry. Proving that there is always new ground to be broken, this nightmare fuel will not be something you forget anytime soon. Premiering at this year’s Unnamed Footage Festival, focusing on overlooked and emerging found footage films, it seems on track to become the next cult horror movie.
Three memory cards are found in the Mojave Desert. They contain the last few days of an LA filmmaker named Robbie who is recruited into recording a music video in the desert with a small crew. While recording, strange stuff starts happening around them: sonic booms sound throughout the night, weird sounds radiating from the earth, the ground vibrates. This quickly escalates into what can only be described as a journey into hell.
The Outwaters is not easily understood. It does not care too much about making the story transparent or wrapping up loose ends. What it’s concerned with is unsettling and disorienting you. And that it accomplishes completely.
The film starts with some pretty average, somewhat boring filler that’s almost impossible to avoid in a found footage film. The filmmaker protagonist and his brother get ready for their music video and the beginning is made up of behind-the-scenes footage of the various crew members meeting and inside jokes with each other. Despite the uneventful nature, the cinematography is exceptionally good for a found footage film so at the very least that distracts.
This cinematography blossoms from colorful, artistic impressions of the landscape around them into contrasted, jolting scenes notable for their strong, disturbed imagery in the latter half of the film.
About one third in, The Outwaters takes a drastic turn as the listless music video shoot turns into a psychological massacre that goes places I can’t say found footage has ever gone before.
The film is not as concerned with survival from horrors as it is with the psychological effects of trauma and creating a nightmare.
Blending the reality of found footage with the uncertainty of the main character’s mental state leads to some interesting plot developments that will definitely make you question what exactly is going on in this desert.
Therein lies the one problem with The Outwaters: sometimes it’s a bit too indiscernible. Even after multiple viewings I’m not quite sure what exactly went on in the end of this movie. However, this also adds to the Lovecraftian feel of the film. These characters are mere puppets in the cosmic events that are happening that go way beyond what they know, especially since our final character seems to be not “all there” after suffering from an injury.
That one character, by the way, is played by director/writer/editor Robbie Banfitch, making this film almost entirely a singular, successful effort on his part. Even from behind the camera, his character stands out from other found footage films and makes for an entirely new direction in which a character can go in the genre.
One of the most important elements in any horror film, as we all know, is the gore and special effects, and boy does this film deliver. After the turning point in the film, almost every shot includes some sort of gory effect that ranges from simple blood splatter to some disgusting prosthetics and terrifying textures.
The editing is also strong in this film. While the beginning is a bit of a slog, the ending uses startling cuts and sound design that adds to the horrifying goings ons in the film. There are many editing choices that terrify without simply relying on jump scares.
In fact, many of the scariest moments of The Outwaters are hidden from the camera, including a scene that takes place almost entirely in the dark where the viewer can only hear screams in the distance. The direction of this film is strong, with most shots having an intentionality behind them that is lost in most films in the subgenre that rely entirely on the fact that their style is found footage and not adding much beyond that.
The Outwaters is an incredibly strong found footage film that will undoubtedly find an audience in time. Its insane progression of events will test your limits and its beautiful, stylized cinematography will wow you.
At this time it’s unclear what the distribution plan for this film is, but for those who are interested in disturbing, journey into hell type films, keep an eye out. The Unnamed Footage Festival will have an online event on May 7 so follow them for updates on their lineup. Check out the trailer below.