the outwaters | robbie banfitch | angela basolis | scott schamell | found footage | sci-fi | thriller | time travel | time loop | desert | isolation | isolated | united states | michelle may | leslie ann banfitch | aro caitlin | christine brown | melissa andrea
Film: The Outwaters
Director: Robbie Banfitch
Writer: Robbie Banfitch
Starring: Robbie Banfitch, Angela Basolis and Scott Schamell
This is a movie that I was hearing buzz about. It intrigued me to check out so it went on a list of 2023 films to see. What I knew was that it was found footage and that our group of characters went out to the desert. I decided to watch this for a Featured Review on Journey with a Cinephile: A Horror Movie Podcast during a week that there were no horror releases to the theater. I also gave it a rewatch to see where I stood as well.
Synopsis: four travelers encounter menacing phenomena while camping in the remote stretch of the Mojave Desert.
Now this grabbed my attention from the start as we get a 911 call where people are screaming. It is distorted and unnerving to be honest. There is text that gives the names of our characters. I’ll go ahead and break them down a bit here. First off, we have brothers Robbie (Robbie Banfitch) and Scott Zagorac (Scott Schamell). It is the latter’s birthday and Robbie got him a fancy hiking backpack. Attached to it is a bandanna that belonged to their father. Inside is a journal for Scott’s short stories that is quite nice as well as a necklace from their mother. Her name is Leslie (Leslie Ann Banfitch).
The brothers are going to the desert with Michelle August (Michelle May) who is a singer. Robbie is going to shoot footage for a music video. She takes nursery rhymes and showcases her vocals in her own variation. It shows her talent. This also seems to be a tribute to her mother who has passed away as the ones she sings were sung to her as a child. Also joining them is Ange Bocuzzi (Angela Basolis) who is doing make-up and wardrobe for Michelle.
Before they head out, Robbie goes to visit Leslie. She is sad that Scott didn’t join them. She is glad to at least see her one of her sons. Another bit of information that I wanted to provide that is unrelated is that two earthquakes happen. Both seem violent and Robbie records what they do during them.
This group then goes out to the desert. They settle in and at night something odd happens. There is a floating orb of light. There are also booms in the distance and what sounds like thunder. Robbie noticed that a nearby hill to where they’re camping, the ground seems to be vibrating. It seems like someone is following them as well. This is where the nightmare begins.
Now I did want to go a bit light on the synopsis. What I’ve given you here is the first thirty minutes or so of the movie. I hate to start with a negative, but I do. The pacing is off for me, at least in this opening section. We get that great opening sequence that made me feel uneasy before we get into this. From there, this gets boring as we introduce our characters. This movie is a slow burn until it ends in a flurry. I can understand why he get this lull. It doesn’t ruin the movie, but I can see how it turned people off and not going farther. Once things pick up, it gets wild from there and the pace gets almost manic.
I’m not going to go into spoilers. There are a few ways to look at this movie so I will lay out the options. I read this as open ended where you can take any of the alternatives to read this. The first is that we have a time travel/loop movie. Where this originally comes up is that one night Robbie sees a dark figure holding an ax that was found as they head out to where they’re going to shoot. He sees this same person the next night standing in the exact place again. There are also things that happen earlier in the movie that we could be seeing again. An example is the time on the airplane. This also might be looking into a different dimension as Scott is on it when he wasn’t earlier. Time travel and the multiverse tend to go hand in hand. This could also be aliens to explain how it is happening or that this is a spot where in the Earth, something naturally occurring is the cause. An explanation is a wormhole. The earthquakes could be factoring in here too.
Another way of reading this is that our characters could be hallucinating. Robbie finds a sign so this could be a testing site. He also discovers a gasmask next to it. Prolonged exposure here could be making them see things. I should also say here that while in the dark, Robbie sees a monster. Now this could be a figment of his imagination. You could also say that this is a cosmic horror film where he encountered something that we cannot explain. This sign is obscure, it is just trying to keep them out. There could be creatures in this isolated part of the desert which could also circle back to the first theory.
The last option I’ll give to see this is that nothing supernatural is happening. They’ve all gone out to the desert and they’re ill-prepared. The group is experiencing a madness of sorts from dehydration. Robbie snaps and kills the group. He is seeing things around him. What I like is that the movie doesn’t explain it. It leaves it up to us to figure out what we think is happening. Now the last option I’m less incline to go with. There are elements that I think we get from it. The reason is that these things are caught on camera as I should point out that this is found footage. This is police investigation into the footage we are seeing as they piece it together. If I must give you what I think, I’m going with aliens or cosmic horror here where they are causing the footage to impart on the camera as well as causing these wormhole/time loops.
With that explored, I think the next should be the best parts of this which are the filmmaking. First, let me go to the effects. They’re great. This is low-budget and from what I can tell they went practical with most everything. The blood looks great. There are eerie things that we get a glimpse of on the screen. I’ll bring in the cinematography here as well. I do have a bit of a gripe. This is dark and it is hard to see. I’ll give credit as it hides critiquing the effects. I also was annoyed as I want to see more. There were times I questioned why we were still filming or why our guy was shooting early on. I can overlook this to an extent in both cases. Robbie is a guy who just films things. In the desert, it is a source of light and if you’re not going to make it, document what you can to help explain. The last bit here is the soundtrack. This made me uncomfortable early on. There is sounds and tones that just got to me. I was nervous to go into a dark room later into the night thanks to this. This was done effective.
All that is left then would be the acting. It’s not great. Being that this is found footage, I don’t need it to be. I just need it to feel natural which it does. This feels like a real group of people. They know each other, but not necessarily well. Banfitch and Schamell feel like brothers. Basolis feels like someone that Robbie knows and has worked with in the past, but they’re not necessarily friends. It also feels like a working relationship between May and Robbie. I’d say he also has a crush on her, but not necessarily reciprocated. Other than that, the rest of the cast including Leslie Ann were solid and fit for what was needed.
In conclusion, this is a movie that I had trouble settling into. Once I got past that opening act though, I was there for the ride. This made me feel uncomfortable which is good. It is an open-ended movie that had me trying to piece things together. I think this is well-made from the cinematography to the soundtrack. If I have a gripe, it is a bit too dark and I want to see a bit more. The characters feel real enough which is all I need there. I’m not truly sure how I feel though. Having revisited, I don’t know if the pacing works. I think there are lofty ideas that this is striving for, but just comes up short. I do like allowing the viewer to determine what they think. It just needed some tweaking to be more effective.
My Rating: 7.5 out of 10