The Outwaters a Bold Experimental Effort in Horror That Subverts Traditional Storytelling

Following closely on the viral sensation Skinamarink, The Outwaters is the latest indie horror movie to generate big buzz. To date, critics haven’t been shy about touting this found-footage thriller as the next Blair Witch Project. That’s high praise that comes with a bit of baggage. Though it’s considered a classic horror movie, The Blair Witch Project polarized audiences in 1999. From writer and director Robbie Banfitch, The Outwaters promises plenty of hallucinatory imagery that could transcend the found-footage format, which isn’t as fresh today as it was over 20 years ago.


Four friends venture into the Mojave Desert to camp and film a music video. On their first night, strange sounds in the distance wake them up. And animals show subtly odd behaviour. But nothing could have prepared them for what happens on their second night. Strange phenomena inexplicably turns into a living nightmare that they can’t escape.

The Outwaters, Like a Feverish Nightmare, Lacks Much in the Way of Narrative

While it’s a familiar opening scene – title cards inform us that we’re watching memory cards assembled into chronological order – The Outwaters hooks you instantly. Black-and-white still photographs of missing friends interspersed with outtakes of a disturbing 911 call sets an ominous tone. On a sidenote, the sound design here is outstanding. One of the consistent threads in this thriller is the level of creepiness achieved by disembodied sounds. But writer and director Robbie Banfitch runs into the same problem as Skinamarink almost immediately. That is, The Outwaters clocks in at 100 minutes and the first 45 to 50 minutes featuring a whole lot of nothing. And no, there’s not much in the way of character development. This is assembled footage – what Banfitch gives us are outtakes of characters in different settings. All of this amounts to just enough information to glean where and (sort of) why are characters are going.

…the sound design here is outstanding. One of the consistent threads in this thriller is the level of creepiness achieved by disembodied sounds.

On a similar note, The Outwaters lacks anything resembling a narrative or traditional storytelling. That bit of synopsis above is as much as you’ll take away from this found-footage thriller. Stuff happens (eventually) without any rhyme, reason, or the slightest bit of context. Unlike The Blair Witch Project, Banfitch doesn’t use early scenes to build any sort of mythology to frame what follows. In the absence of those opening closing still shots, this would be an almost formless movie with no beginning, middle, or real conclusion.

The Outwaters Features a Disturbing, Unnerving Second Half

If it’s not a coherent movie, The Outwaters is ambitious, experimental horror movie that boasts plenty of surreal nightmare imagery. Banfitch has accomplished something quite difficult – he’s re-created exactly how an inescapable bad dream feels. Though it doesn’t really slow burn to its horror elements, The Outwaters subtly warns audiences that something awful is coming. Strange sounds, odd animal behaviour, and cracks of thunder are as ominous as intended. The silhouette of man in the distance holding a hatchet is as scary as anything you’ll find in most horror movies. And there’s something downright disturbing when Robbie – following an unseen violent struggle – says, ‘My head is raining’. Scattershot images of various grotesqueries are disorienting and should have viewers squirming.

Banfitch has accomplished something quite difficult – he’s re-created exactly how an inescapable bad dream feels.

As mentioned above, The Outwaters doesn’t slow-burn as much as it abruptly switches gears. Following its opening 45 minutes, the second half of the movie plays out like a non-stop hallucinatory trip. As an experimental film, Banfitch has certainly achieved something that’s noteworthy. On the other hand, it may not be something you’d seek out to watch a second time. Much of the imagery is captured with the kind of shaky cam that often defines found-footage thrillers. Yet the absence of any sort of narrative structure leaves much of these images feeling random and disconnected.

The Outwaters a Bold Experiment, A Disjointed Viewing Experiment

With so much advanced hype, The Outwaters will undoubtedly prove to be a divisive movie. Regardless of the critical praise heaped on it thus far, The Outwaters has a long ways to go to convince enough horror fans it’s the next Blair Witch Project. Like the aforementioned Skinamarink, this is an indie horror the comes as close as one can imagine to feeling like a feverish nightmare. There’s some disturbing imagery put on the screen and moments certainly feel unnerving. But the lack of any storytelling leaves those images feeling disconnected – no buildup, no emotional investment. And there’s no justification for its nearly two hour runtime. Undoubtedly, Banfitch has made a bold, experimental horror movie that should be watched. You just may not want to watch it again.


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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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