The Outwaters (2022)
February 21, 2023 8:37 AM - Subscribe

[TRAILER] Four travelers encounter menacing phenomena while camping in a remote stretch of the Mojave Desert.

Starring Robbie Banfitch, Angela Basolis, Scott Schamell, Michelle May, Leslie Ann Banfitch,

Written, directed, co-produced, edited, and photographed by Robbie Banfitch.

69% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Currently streaming in the US on Screambox and Hoopla. JustWatch listing.
posted by DirtyOldTown (11 comments total)
I'm going to do my best to help people level-set on this one without giving any spoilers, because I think this one merits it. There will be two sections here: spoiler-free and very limited spoilers.

Most people are probably going to hate this. And even people inclined to think it is pretty good (as I am) are going to have reservations (as I do).

So here are some things to know:
-it's found footage
-little, if anything horror/supernatural/scary occurs in the first 50 minutes
-that act isn't boring, exactly, but it is deliberately paced and if "deliberately paced found footage" made you recoil, you probably won't make it through that part
-at about the halfway point, it goes gonzo fucking weird and the story becomes difficult to follow, as a single disoriented character is holding the camera erratically as they go through an incomprehensibly weird and upsetting experience
-so if you see someone say it's 50 minutes of treading water followed by 50 minutes of shaky, unclear shots of screaming and blood, they are not too far off

-if this has been sold to you as anything like The Blair Witch Project, they only meant that it is found footage. was amazingly cheaply made ($15K budget) and is still feature length and getting notice; the styles could hardly be more diffferent
-it goes Lovecraftian
-BUT--and this is a big but--Lovecraftian horror, even when photographed elegantly with carefully staged shots is intrinsically inexplicable... when it's one scared, bloody person running around haphazardly waving a camera, it's chaos and not always entertaining chaos
-while on the one hand, very little "happens" in Skinamarink and a lot of stuff happens in the second half of this film, my guess is that if you hated that film, the disjointed second half of this will piss you off, too

Actual review to follow in next comment.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:46 AM on February 21, 2023


Did I like this? Yeah. It actually scared me a bit. I had to watch silly videos after to be able to sleep.

The camera work isn't random exactly in the second half, as Banfitch still manages all kinds of striking angles and compositions and images, but it is supposed to (and does) reflect someone carrying a camera more out of a habit they cannot, because of shock, let go of, than someone trying to coherently document things. It's gonna piss some people off. It's less "third act brings it all home" and more "inscrutable found footage from hellscape."

It's messy and irritating in places and could have been 15, maybe 20 minutes minutes shorter. The explanation for what the fuck actually happened is there, I would argue, but it isn't super clear and provokes as many questions as it answers.

I believe this was a government experiment site of some kind (the sign and the gas mask, the planes and helicopters). I believe it tore a hole in the universe in some way that causes reality there to spasm and loop in on itself (which is the rumbling we hear), also letting in Lovecraftian monsters from another dimension. It's not quite a traditional time loop, because some of them are sort of trapped in the moment of their deaths, while Robbie loops back and revisits things and sees himself, even, I would argue, being the hatchet-wielding killer.

The thing that makes this interesting is, were it a standard narrative film, there would be all kinds of hand wavey drugs/hallucinations/delusions theories, but since we're watching it as found footage, it all definitely happened as shown in this film's world.

Even so, it's not neat. It's not a perfect loop. More like some kind of reverberating hell. We watch Robbie sucked back to his mom's house where she is also covered in blood. Then he's back in the desert. Whatever is happening to him is intended to make him suffer.

I think it's lumpy, a little overlong, and shrill, but I also watched this thing alone in the dark at like midnight and couldn't sleep after it, which is something I rarely say about anything.

If you want clarity or explanations, this film will piss you off. If you want structure or payoff, this film will piss you off. If you want subtlety and vibes, half of this film will piss you off. If you want gonzo gore and chaos, the first half will definitely piss you off and the second half is so jumbled, it might still piss you off too.

But for something to watch alone in the dark, made for $15,000, fucking good on you, Robbie Banfitch. Some gnarly images living rent-free in my head today.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:00 AM on February 21, 2023 [3 favorites]

I love films that don't have closure and end-up pissing me off... Marebito, YellowBrickRoad, Ravenous (1999) and Triangle are all movies that have ended-up living in my brain, rent-free - therefore, I will wait until one late dark, lonely night and watch this.
posted by rozcakj at 11:22 AM on February 21, 2023 [1 favorite]

I forgot to mention that it's interesting that part of the hellscape thing at the end loops in his flight. Is it just drawing in stuff from his life or does that indicate reality started spasming earlier? Maybe with those weird earthquakes at the beginning? Did these poor bastards decide, at the beginning of the collapse of reality, to venture off on a camping trip to the actual epicenter where that all started?

It doesn't really matter, I don't think, but still. Questions on questions.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:35 AM on February 21, 2023

I'm sorry about whatever happened to these people, but on the other hand, if they'd survived 2017 and moved to my neighborhood my rent probably would have gone up like 35%.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:47 PM on February 21, 2023

I don't think this does make sense; I picture Nicolas Cage as Donald Kaufman out there saying, "Yeah -- isn't it fucked up?!" I can imagine there is a definite reading of Skinamarink that, if it's not a thing that can reasonably be drawn from any viewing of the movie, does at least exist in the director's brain. I think The Outwaters is meant to be an inscrutable acid trip that deliberately can't make sense -- we know that what we're watching is not an hallucination but literally what happened, and the point is that there's no literal reading of the events that will ever really work.

Personally, I think the found footage boom of the '00s has a lot to answer for.

If a movie can succeed entirely on vibes, this would be it. For me, I think there's something eerie about the music and the desert twilights that shrieky vomitcam part of the movie doesn't live up to. A weird folk horror Let's Scare Jessica to Death kind of thing could have flowed naturally from the opening, and I think I would have enjoyed it more. I got the Cannibal Holocaust references at the end, but I don't know why he wanted to make Cannibal Holocaust, honestly. Was that really the most interesting outcome?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:59 PM on February 21, 2023

Between this movie and Skinamarink, I think I'm all set with vibes-based horror for the time being. Both have their moments (the final shot in The Outwaters is awesome, and Skinamarink is pretty fuckin creepy at first), but you are really asking a lot of your audiences to expect them to sit through feature-length versions of either of these films. I get that not everyone is going to love The Blair Witch Project but at least it has some character development!
posted by cakelite at 8:49 AM on February 22, 2023 [1 favorite]

I've been thinking about it, and I should say: I really think that what's done just with sound design in the second half is extremely impressive. You feel the way the environment shifts, from the desert to the mine to the plane to the ocean, based almost entirely on the soundtrack. I'm not sure that any of it means anything very profound, but it's an experience for sure.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:47 AM on February 23, 2023 [1 favorite]

Even if this didn't land for folks, but it's hard to imagine--even if you come out of it tilting negative--not being impressed with parts of this. He did a lot for $15,000.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:56 AM on February 23, 2023

I actually really liked this. Very little freaks me out anymore but a bunch of the images in here did. As kittens for breakfast noted, the sounds design is also great.

Note: I despised Skinamarink. I mention this because while they obviously have elements in common, it’s very possible to like one and dislike the other.
posted by holborne at 10:46 AM on February 28, 2023 [1 favorite]

Eh. Ended up skimming through the last half hour once it was clear that none of it was gonna make any sense, and none of the characters did anything except die. Some horrific gore, sure, but this only hints at the good horror movie that it could have been.
posted by mediareport at 6:50 PM on May 4, 2023

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