When four friends go into the desert to shoot a music video, strange and horrifying things happen, and it’s all caught on video! Fans of Found Footage Horror have a new entry to check out with Robbie Banfitch’s chilling The Outwaters. It takes its time to get going, but the horrifying almost psychedelic imagery is the payoff right up to the shocking conclusion. Cinedigm, ETR Media, and OCN Distribution deliver an excellent Blu-ray release with an impressive A/V presentation and plenty of worthwhile bonus features. Recommended
Horror is often used as a proving ground for many an up-and-coming filmmaker to show they’ve got the stuff to make a real feature. Usually cheap to produce, many failed attempts prove they’re not always easy to pull off. With a minimal budget on hand, the Found Footage subgenre has become a cheap and easy way to pull off a horror flick. With the likes of The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity in the corner, it’s a fine way to make a scary movie if it works. As entries in the subgenre have become a dime a dozen (emphasis on the “dime”), streaming services are stuffed to the gills with sub-par cast-off would-be horror films that are better left unseen. This is where filmmaker Robbie Banfitch walks in with a clever new spin on an almost played-out subgenre with The Outwaters. The film may feel a little long in the tooth at the outset, but when the frights start, the film proves to be an unnerving often shocking tour of horror.
Our film picks up with four friends making their way deep into the Mojave Desert to shoot a music video. Brothers Robbie (Robbie Banfitch) and Scott (Scott Schamell) along with rising musician Michelle (Michelle May) and their friend Angela (Angela Basolis) have set up camp near a dried-up old lakebed for the duration, but strange things start to happen. At night terrifying sounds of booming thunder without a storm and distressed animals without any creatures around echo through the hills. But that’s just the beginning of the horrors they’re about to face.
Upfront and honest - I’m not much of a fan of Found Footage Horror films. I have the patience of Job when it comes to some films but Found Footage just strains me. If there isn’t a captivating framework like what Deodato pulled for Cannibal Holocaust or an interesting hook like the marketing for The Blair Witch Project, I’m just a hard sell. By the time I got to the Paranormal Activity films they were so over-saturated with sequels and ripoffs a lot of the potential impact was spoiled. By and large, if things don’t start moving I drift out and it’s a damn difficult job for a film to pull my attention back in. Then comes The Outwaters, a Found Footage Horror film that takes its time languidly setting itself up before going full bore into terror and horror. While I’d argue the film could have used some tightening at the front end, it uses that time to set up one hell of a payoff in the latter half right through to one damn messed-up ending. I never knew bloody legs walking in a camera spotlight could be so unnerving and haunting, but they freaked me out more than once!
How successfully the film resolves may be up to the individual, but I loved how the film drifts into this nightmarish, almost Lovecraftian realm of the bizarre and madness. It’s a pretty daring turn to have the audience question the reality of what’s happening inside the conceit of a Found Footage film, but it worked. Once the action sets into the desert and the strange sounds start creeping in, the film gradually picks up the pace into a full-throated tour of madness. And I liked it! Just when I thought it was going to lose me for good, it only took some effective sound design to pull me back into the show. By the time a silhouetted figure standing on a hill in the dark holding an axe appears, I was plastered into my couch and ready for the ride.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The Outwaters drifts onto Blu-ray with a single-disc release from Cinedigm, ETR Media, and OCN Distribution. Pressed on a BD-50 disc, the disc comes home in a standard sturdy clear case with reversible insert artwork. If you order from Vinegar Syndrome’s website, you can pick up a slick exclusive slipcover. The disc loads to a standard main menu. Also included is a booklet containing essays about the film.
Shot digitally, The Outwaters enjoys that typical handheld digital camera styling of most recent Found Footage features for its 1080p 1.78:1 transfer. With that are the typical digital anomalies and so forth but thankfully the image is steady enough that those with light stomachs shouldn’t have to pop the Dramamine. Black levels are reasonably strong and deep, of course, there are some caveats to that considering the source styling but there’s plenty of depth to the image, daylight sequences look the best, but even the dead-of-night terrors can strike some interesting visuals. Colors are on point with healthy skin tones and plenty of primary pop - red sees the most attention in that respect.
Most impressive for The Outwaters is the DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mix. At the start the soundscape may not be the most exciting, you hear that familiar “fumbling” sound of someone shifting their grip on the camera or talking too close to the mic. When the main show starts deep in the desert, the sound design really comes to life letting those booming thunderclaps and the damned creepy sounds of critters scratching and calling into the night to fill the surrounds. Dialog is generally clear, but that largely depends on if and when the camera is pointed at the subject. Music is sparse but cleverly applied when and where it seeps into the film. This flick is proof positive that it’s not always what you see but what you hear that creeps you out the most.
On the bonus features front, The Outwaters comes packed with some pretty interesting stuff. The audio commentary is informative if a little different in that two police detectives have joined the conversation. Definitely different but interesting insight at least for the missing persons sort of materials. After that there are Prequel and Epilogue short films that give a little more context for the opening of the film as well as the aftermath of the events seen in the film.
I honestly didn’t expect much from The Outwaters going in. I’d only vaguely heard of it and had never seen a trailer so I went in as cold as possible knowing only that it was a Found Footage flick. Admittedly I expected to be underwhelmed by it, I was pleasantly surprised by this low-budget creeper. Simple storytelling using classic horror tricks elevates this feature above the common genre riffraff. It’s not perfect, I’d still argue the film could have been tightened a bit at the front end, but if you can get through the introductory stretch, the final haul is worth it. On Blu-ray, the film scores a respectable transfer with an excellent audio mix and a fine assortment of interesting and worthwhile bonus features. If you need something creepy - turn out the lights and give this one a run. Recommended.