The Outwaters delivers a jarring descent into Lovecraftian desert horror | Pittsburgh City Paper

The Outwaters delivers a jarring descent into Lovecraftian desert horror

click to enlarge A white woman in a white flowy dress, her back towards the camera, walks along a cracked desert landscape.
Photo: Courtesy of Cinedigm
The Outwaters
There’s a point in The Outwaters where I thought, “Wow, they could have cut everything before this and it wouldn’t have made a difference.” This was about 30 minutes into a nearly two-hour movie about a rag-tag, four-person film crew heading into the Mojave Desert — a vast, dangerously beautiful area stretching across the southwestern United States — to shoot a music video.

While the newest edition to the found footage genre — now playing through Thu., March 16 at the Harris Theater — may try the audience’s patience with long, meandering handheld shots masquerading as character development, it does reward those willing to stick around with a nightmarish, visually stunning spiral into Lovecraftian madness.

Like any found footage movie, The Outwaters begins with a Very Official Disclaimer authenticating the following as legit, an effect heightened by intertitles introducing each act as being taken from a new memory card. Those memory cards come from the camera of Robbie Zagorac (writer/director Robbie Banfitch), a young, Los Angeles-based filmmaker.

Through Robbie’s diligent lens, we meet his estranged brother Scott (Scott Schamell), makeup and wardrobe coordinator Ange (Angela Basolis), and Michelle (Michelle May), an aspiring musician still grieving the death of her mother. The latter adds to a larger-than-expected theme here, as the story reveals Scott’s own strained relationships with his and Robbie’s mother (played by Banfitch’s own mom, Leslie Ann, which I found to be an endearing detail.)
click to enlarge Close up on a white woman's face covered in blood.
Photo: Courtesy of Cinedigm
The Outwaters
The group sets out to capture Michelle in all her pretty, blonde, alt-folk glory, twirling and posing in prairie dresses against the sun-soaked landscape. Once night sets in, however, the crew and their star are left cowering in their tents as they’re bombarded by mysterious, thunder-like booms and other strange occurrences.

If you’re wondering if Michelle sings, she does — a lot. Even beyond Michelle’s contributions, music plays a significant role in the film, especially in the first act the dense soundtrack a generic indie music playlist fit for the Coachella festival crowds Ange roasts at one point. The choice, while justified, given that the film centers around a music video, distracts from Banfitch’s otherwise promising setup, making it difficult to become immersed in the unscripted performances and fragmented storytelling that make its chosen subgenre so appealing in the first place.

Viewers will be left white-knuckling it, however, once the film trades its tranquil, Instagram-worthy sheen for a jarring plunge into a blood-soaked, hyper-sensory shitshow that never lets up, achieved through practical effects, horrors obscured by the meager shine of a flashlight, and otherworldly sound effects. At this point in the review, I feel duty-bound to note that anyone with a sensitivity to strobing or disorienting camera movements should either avoid this movie at all costs or bring a barf bag.

Despite its interminable runtime, the film demonstrates Banfitch’s surprising skill, not only as a writer, director, and actor but as the talent credited with The Outwaters’ visionary special effects and sound engineering. Even if his first big feature leaves them cold, diehard horror fans should look forward to his future projects.
The Outwaters. Showtimes vary. Fri., March 10-Thu., March 16. Harris Theater.
809 Liberty Ave., Downtown. $11.

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