Synopsis: Four travelers experience a mind-bending trip through terror while camping in a remote stretch of the Mojave Desert.
Stars: Robert Banfitch, Angela Basolis, Michelle May, Scott Schamell, Leslie Ann Banfitch
Director: Robert Banfitch
Running Length: 110 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: It’s been nearly 25 years since The Blair Witch Project arrived in theaters and not only scared the pants off audiences but ushered in a wave of copycat projects in the found-footage genre. While The Blair Witch Project wasn’t the pinnacle of achievement in this area, it set the bar high for those that followed in its wake, with only a select few ever rising to the same chilling heights. As most popular products go, demand was so high that eventually the output became shoddy and dull. All viewers were left with were the uninspired, rehashed embers of what was once a blazingly good moment in time.
With the release of The Outwaters, found-footage entertainment gets resurrected for a new generation with intriguing results. I carefully approach reviewing this one because I have to classify it as a YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary) type of experience. This will not be a movie that everyone will get something out of; it’s too gruesome and idle for mainstream audiences to embrace fully. However, genre fans that understand the importance of calculated layering in horror should note what writer/director Robert Banfitch has prepared for them.
A spine-chilling 911 call opens the film, previewing to viewers the mayhem to come after we get acquainted with the four twenty-somethings that venture out into the Mojave Desert to film a music video. Title cards identify them all as missing for years, but three recently discovered memory cards have been pieced together as evidence of what happened during their weekend. Director/cameraman Robbie Zagorac (Banfitch) remains unseen primarily, shooting the material for Michelle’s (Michelle May) first music video. Coming along for additional support are Robbie’s brother Scott (Scott Schamell) and friend Ange (Angela Casolis), who will work behind the scenes.
Usually, these introductions can be severe time wasters and not integral to the plot, but Banfitch and his actors manage to create a quartet that feels like they have a history together in a short amount of time. It goes a long way in making the film’s final act’s impact much more shocking. In this opening stretch, you notice The Outwaters is far more professionally made than similar features in the past. Either bare-bones filmmaking has come up a level, or Banfitch has cracked the code to elevate low-budget horror into something uniquely auteur. As the film progresses, you understand it’s Banfitch making all the right choices.
Where the film will lose viewers is the exact point that it diverges from the norm. I can’t tell you exactly when that is because it will be too much of a spoiler but know that Banfitch is taking you on an extraordinary journey that will play with all your senses simultaneously. I watched this at home, and specific film tricks made it an uncomfortable watch. I can only imagine that a screening inside a theater, when you add in a more extensive sound system and an audience going through it all with you, would make it even more frenzied. It culminates in some of the grislier images I’ve seen in horror lately, documenting the production’s willingness to follow through on its mission to scare and shock.
I can see The Outwaters become a low-grade sleeper hit, a midnight title that gains a following for its final act of madness. It’s well-made and performed nicely by the cast, who are insanely committed to anything Banfitch throws their way. As a side note, it also has some pleasant music and a final credit sequence worth sitting through if you need to catch your breath. YMMV with The Outwaters, but it’s more than worth the gas.