For as inexplicably horrific as the beginning writer/director Robbie Banfitch’s The Outwaters starts, what occurs after is easy and quiet. Much of the first act seems easygoing for the found footage, sometimes cosmic horror and proverbial mind scramble of a film. Robbie Zagorac (played by Banfitch) is the cameraman of this ordeal and wants to shoot a music video in the Mojave Desert. The people who are coming along for the ride are his brother and guitarist Scott (Scott Schamell), the makeup person for the shoot Ange (Angela Basolis), and singer Michelle (Michelle May).
Banfitch strives to build some rapport between these characters and the audience ever so slightly. We see the brothers interact and get the sense that their mother would like to see them more than she does. The song Michelle signs is a lullaby her late mother used to sing to her when she was little – thus adding a simple layer of emotionality to the story. However, The Outwaters opens with a rather disturbing 911 call where presumably, these characters are screaming in distorted pitches. Things will go downhill fast for these four relatively soon, and that sense of foreboding doom keeps you interested to see how it unwinds.
As for the terrors, you don’t get a clear definition of what is happening. That disorienting feeling is what Banfitch is counting on – to throw you in the deep end of the pool like the people on screen. A few earthquakes happen (it is near California, so that can’t be so out of place, right?), and high-pitched frequencies often occur as they get closer to the desert. There are inexplicable bright lights that flicker rapidly, and while they try to sleep, a consistent exploding sound comes into the night sky. What or who could be causing all this to happen?
The Outwaters doesn’t allow you to get your footing in figuring this out. Instead, Banfitch’s camera style narrows the scope of vision to a small amount of light and elects to more of an audio experience. Suddenly, the quartet is immersed in a world of blood, ear-curdling yelling, and an unseen force ready to take advantage of it all. Previously found footage pillars such as The Blair Witch Project takes a progressive amount of time to get to the heart of the matter. Not this film – it immediately discards holding your hand until “that moment” happens. This could be exhilarating but frustrating if you’re accustomed to trying to make sense of what is happening.
Soon, Robbie is walking around disoriented, moving past worm monsters, and trying to remind himself who he is. The barren and dry desert landscape becomes a bloody playground for something that defies time and space. Anytime your imagination tries to grab hold of any fathomable explanation, Banfitch will ferociously jar your fingertips loose. Sometimes as simple as expressing your creative endeavors can end up deadly. The horror genre’s strength is that it can make something out of nothing. Like much of the sound design The Outwaters boasts, that’s precisely what it’s going for. A blunt and unhinged experience that will bounce around in your mind even after it fades to black.