“The Outwaters” tries so hard to be experimental and artsy that there is very little clarity, leading to an incredibly aggravating viewing experience. This loosely-plotted, painfully slow moving horror film has some memorable moments, but it’s just too abstract to warrant a recommendation.
A filmmaker heads into the Mojave Desert to shoot a music video with his crew. While camping in a remote location, they encounter a menacing phenomena that causes strange things to happen. It starts with sounds of sonic booms during the night and earthquake-like vibrations during the day, culminating in what feels like a descent into a hellish nightmare of terror.
Writer / director Robbie Banfitch utilizes the found footage gimmick, and it’s dreadfully sluggish. The opening 911 call starts things off strong, but then the film cuts to dull mumblecore-style scenes. It feels like such a massive letdown just five minutes in, which doesn’t leave a very good footing on which to stand.
The first act is borderline insufferable, with routine glimpses of the main characters and their ordinary, uninteresting lives. These people are unlikable across the board (uncharismatic, too), giving you zero reasons to care. There’s no connection that ever forms. The second act is a bit better, and the third is a no-holds-barred blood and gore fest.
The film is set up to be more of an experience than a structured story, and it feels lazy. It’s abstract to a fault as the group begins traveling through what appear to be different dimensions and eventually, into madness. This is accompanied by lots of characters repeatedly screaming “what’s happening?!” but at that point, you will be, too.
Thankfully there are a lot of cool visuals that stick, like a sunset view of a shadowy figure with an axe, or a mangled hand that’s dripping blood. It’s a good looking movie to be sure, and the third act in particular offers some truly nightmarish, horrifying visuals. Banfitch uses sound, darkness, and light to build tension, but the POV storytelling with a constantly bouncing camera is nauseating. Violently shaking camerawork is never enjoyable to watch, especially for nearly two hours straight.
Much of the film takes place in total darkness, relying on sound to convey the horror. There are scenes that are literally pitch black with nothing but screams on the soundtrack. Banfitch is clever with his cinematography, often lighting his scenes with nothing but a small flashlight. It’s scary and sets the disorienting tone, but is overdone.
“The Outwaters” has a great, if somewhat confusing, finale, with plenty of gore and a few elements that are there simply for the sake of being shocking. It’s a killer way to end the story, but the snippets where it’s nearly impossible to see or tell what’s going on ultimately lead to an extremely frustrating experience.