After making its rounds at film festivals, Robbie Banfitch’s The Outwaters is finally hitting the public in early February. With praise being showered upon it for its atmospheric terror and explosive climax, The Outwaters joins Shudder’s recently-acquired film Skinamarink in taking a more methodical approach to horror, warping and twisting what was once a familiar and pleasant setting into something much more unsettling. Unlike Skinamarink, however, The Outwaters aims to take a much more visceral and violent turn as four friends enter a night of madness in the Mojave Desert. A limited run in theaters will accompany an eventual release on the ScreamBox streaming service, home to the cult-classic Terrifier 2 and a variety of other exclusive horror films.
In the meantime, why not take a look at the trailer for The Outwaters? After rave reviews and a consensus of approval from film festival attendees, we can expect the trailer to allude to the content of the film without giving too much away. From an outsider’s perspective, we can already get a decent idea of how The Outwaters will bring found-footage horror to the Mojave.
The Outwaters is Amazingly Atmospheric
The trailer immediately opens with an upside-down shot of the surrounding wilderness. The sun has already set behind the horizon, leaving nothing but a jagged mess of silhouetted, pointed branches stabbing into a darkening sky. The ambiance, a gentle breeze mixed with an unnerving drone, fills the ears as quotes from positive reviews flash in the empty space. It’s a haunting, almost dream-like way to set the mood. In an instant, the camera orients itself in the right direction as we cut to earlier in the day. It’s an ominous sign of what’s to come.
The ambiance continues, now with a new context. What was once a dull rumbling has now turned into the thudding wheels of a vehicle, trundling across the dirt roads of the Mojave Desert. What could’ve been lightning strikes is now just loose gravel or rattling machinery. A shaking camera films out the front of the vehicle, barely capable of viewing a gargantuan mountain range through thickened dirt and dust accumulating on the windshield. It’s not the most intricate or amazing cinematography, but it doesn’t have to be. Instead, it establishes just how detached our protagonists are from the rest of society.
We’re treated to a few friendly shots of adults playing around in the desert, a stark contrast to what we’ve seen so far. Between leaning on road signs, chasing after a pack of animals, and casually hiking across the sandy plains, you’d have to strain to hear a recorded phone call.
The Outwaters is a Road Trip Gone Wrong
Cell phone service in the Mojave Desert is spotty at best and nonexistent at worst. It’s reflected in how the voice in the call cuts in and out every other second. Despite this, you can hear a worried plea: “please call me,” as someone starts to emotionally fall apart. The call abruptly ends after an admission of love, directly leading to the distinct chirp of either insects or distant birds instead of a dial tone.
A brief shot of the group wandering around at night is seen, and from the look of things, it won’t be a particularly comfortable journey. Only a single light from the camera is visible, illuminating faces with mild concern stretched across them. Scattered shots of the sky, one featuring a full moon in broad daylight, the other taken from the sanctity of a shallow gap in the dirt, are followed by a particularly unnerving scene.
Utter darkness fills the screen. Only a sandy hill is illuminated by the light of the camera, now surrounded by a black, featureless void. Ants rummage through the sediment in search of food, scuttling across what might be a petrified tortoise shell as the ambiance starts to ramp up. And then, nothing. A hushed voice cutting itself off turns into something demonic and deep through digital corruption.
The Outwaters May Have Cosmic Horror
It’s hard to tell exactly what happens next. Our only window into the madness that quickly unfolds is distorted and stitched together through broken footage and horrible screaming. Spurts of blood splash across faces with flashes of unsettling gore effects, previous scenes, and mysterious images that may imply some kind of cosmic threat. Whatever this group of friends found wasn’t peaceful, and it’ll be up to the audience to figure out what exactly happened to warrant such a devastating turn of events.
Whatever happened doesn’t seem to have immediately killed off the group, however. Once the madness settles, we get a title card accompanied by a phone call to 9-1-1. The operators repeatedly ask if they can be heard as panicked screams and hoarse breathing play out in the distance. The rustling of shrubbery likely implies that whoever lived dropped their phone mid-call as they’re forced to run to safety. The trailer concludes with the same haunting animal calls we’ve heard previously.
The Outwaters is exciting, not just because of its premise, but because of how much it purposefully leaves to discover. Those curious to see the film should be wary of spoilers in the coming month, or at least until an official streaming date is announced.