Image courtesy of Screambox TV/Cinedigm
Kicking off with Kyle Edward Ball’s excellent experimental horror film Skinamarink, 2023’s indie horror landscape started on the right foot. The next film looking to take theaters (and eventually streaming) by storm is Robbie Banfitch’s cosmic found footage film The Outwaters. The buzz surrounding it took off after its trailer debuted in front of Terrifier 2, but has ramped up even more so as it prepares to hit theaters.
The story follows a group of four, who are camping in a remote stretch of the Mojave Desert. In the beginning they are hiking, swimming, and shooting a video, enjoying their time together. However, as night falls and strange noises begin enveloping them in this barren land, their sanity begins to falter. This descent into madness is mostly filmed from Robbie’s camera, as he wanders through hell.
Starting off in the usual found footage territory with the b-roll and vlog-style shooting, The Outwaters undoubtedly takes a little bit to get going. Instead of leaning on the more traditional structure of little scares leading to the climax, the film opts to instead sprinkle in loads of foreshadowing and exposition that become clearer when all is said and done. This undoubtedly could be a fault for some, but if you are willing to dig deeper into the lore, you are given more clues.
This isn’t to say that all the answers are available though. In true Lovecraftian fashion, the story is not straight forward. Through the use of dwindling light, camera movement, and set design, the images are vague. But, in doing so the visuals lend a hand to the greater arch of this genre of film, because you are thrown into the madness with no warning. Following along and seeing these haunting images with the characters makes a large difference in the effectiveness. The soft tone in which one of the characters says “My head is raining” (referencing his head wound) is incredibly bleak. There is even diegetic music sprinkled in that reinforces the dread.
Perhaps the most important piece of this whole puzzle though is the ability to do something fresh, that isn’t holding the audiences hand. Staying true to many iconic horror pieces before it, The Outwaters isn’t appealing to the mainstream. It is instead reserving itself for those that have the capability to allow a piece of art to leave things to interpretation, as opposed to explaining everything in such detail that it no longer becomes scary. If your house is haunted, you move out. A killer is after you? Run and fight back. But what do you do when what is stalking you is abstract in nature, to the point that you can’t begin to comprehend it’s power? We all die in the dark.