[Panic Fest 2022 Review] THE OUTWATERS
Courtesy Fathom Film Company
Cosmic horror is a tricky genre to capture on film. The unspeakable ancient deities, the gaping abyss of space, the visions too far-out for our human minds to comprehend…how do you make a movie about horrors too indescribable to, uh, describe?

Fresh off its run at Kansas City’s Panic Fest, found footage movie THE OUTWATERS is the latest to try to get a grip on the slippery tentacles of the genre. THE OUTWATERS stars Robbie Banfitch (who also directed, shot, wrote, and edited) as Robbie, a filmmaker who agrees to shoot his friend’s (Michelle May) music video in the Mojave Desert. They are joined by Robbie’s brother (Scott Schamell) and their makeup artist friend (Angela Basolis), but their camping trip goes downhill almost as soon as they arrive, and the foursome is never heard from again. Opening with audio from a frenzied, distorted 911 call, this is a story told in three acts, each section taken from the three memory cards the missing party left behind.

If you have ever watched a found footage movie before, you’re probably already wondering what’s on that final card, and THE OUTWATERS tempted me to skip ahead and find out for myself long before the third act arrived. Banfitch makes a noble effort to offer a little character development before the far-out nightmare begins, but there is little humor, dread, or drama in these early scenes, and the premise of a filmmaker and his pals planning a Coachella-esque music video in the desert is about as compelling as it sounds.

After the patience-testing first half of the film, the final act of THE OUTWATERS takes you from zero to “wait…what?” in a matter of seconds. The friends have accidentally set up camp on a fault line leading directly to hell, and the rest of the film finds the last man standing, Robbie, stuck in an endlessly repeating spiral of madness and mutilation. There’s free-roaming tentacles, puddles of puke and blood, a severed penis, and screeching entities. I only wish you could see more of it! Juggling the challenges of capturing unspeakable cosmic forces on film and the movie’s obvious budgetary limitations, Banfitch chooses to shoot this lengthy sequence almost exclusively in POV, lit only by a tiny flashlight. For those with little patience for found footage’s propensity for filling the screen with lots of screaming and a constantly swirling camera, THE OUTWATERS will be a challenge.

Though much of THE OUTWATERS is dull and confusing, there is something else you should know. While watching the last thirty minutes of this movie, I found myself curling my hands protectively around my face in a state of keyed-up, anticipatory dread. The tiny flashlight POV never stopped feeling like an annoying found footage cheat and I could rarely tell what the fuck was supposed to be happening, but watching a movie throw this much your way for a sustained period of time is an exhilarating experience, and it rewards patient horror fans in its final moments. I have never before seen a movie pivot from a blood-soaked body writhing in the sand to an extended sequence that takes the film, quite literally, into the cosmos. Finally, THE OUTWATERS pulls you out of its shrieking endless night and back into the relative calm of midday in the Mojave, and it was here that I was treated to one of the most chilling and ingenious shots I’ve seen in recent memory.

I have no doubt that THE OUTWATERS will sharply divide horror fans when it reaches a wider audience. It is just as easy for me to imagine a reasonable person hating this movie as it is to imagine someone brimming with excitement because they received that rare gift in horror: something you haven’t seen before. With THE OUTWATERS, Robbie Banfitch invites us to stop worrying about what’s hiding in the dark corners and to instead look up at the stars.

THE OUTWATERS played at this year’s Panic Film Fest.

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