As a big fan of found footage, I try to watch as many films in the either loved or hated subgenre as possible. Found footage involves a lot more than just shaky camera work. A good found footage movie succeeds at convincing the audience they are participating in the horrors being documented in the film. Robbie Banfitch’s The Outwaters premiered at this year’s virtual Chattanooga Film Festival and does a great job of making the viewer feel like a part of the terror onscreen, setting up a believable story, and utilizing outstanding practical effects. Unfortunately, the film’s runtime doesn’t do it any favors.
The Outwaters opens with the audio of a 911 call made in 2017, which contains voices screaming for help. Fast forward to 2022, when police discover three memory cards belonging to a group of people who went missing in the Mojave desert. Banfitch plays Robbie Zagorac, a filmmaker who decides to make a trip to the Mojave desert with his brother Scott (Scott Schamell), and friends Ange (Angela Basolis) and Michelle (Michelle May) to shoot a music video. While hiking, they find a hatchet stuck in the ground in the middle of nowhere but think nothing of it. After setting up camp, the group realizes something is off as soon as it gets dark when they begin hearing strange, unexplained noises all around them. The noises are soon joined by weird lights causing Robbie to come out of his tent and go exploring in the dark. The lights and sounds become more intense and eventually everyone in the group is wandering around looking for an explanation for what they’re experiencing. As each person in the group disappears one by one into the desert, the film becomes one long, blood-soaked nightmare.
The Outwaters does an excellent job of setting up an interesting premise and Banfitch’s claustrophobic, in-your-face filming style almost immediately draws the viewer into the story and makes you uncomfortable. There are some nighttime sequences involving lights and sounds that work really well at making the audience just as disoriented as the characters in the film. Once blood starts flowing it never stops and the bloody practical effects in this film are excellent and compliment the unnerving tone of the film. Fans of found footage will find so many things to like about this movie, but there are moments when the nearly two-hour runtime begins to distract from the story.
Banfitch’s cinematography is notable for creating a terrifying, suffocating viewing experience and the fantastic practical effects do a great job of bringing the horror onscreen to life. My only complaint is that most of the film is just aimlessly wandering through the desert, which detracts from the story at times and makes the runtime feel bloated. Regardless of the excessive runtime, The Outwaters does succeed at presenting an unsettling, frightfully blood-splattered found footage film worthy of checking out.
Movie Score: 3.5/5