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Actress Michelle May running manic in an open desert. She is dressed in a bloodied white summer dress, her hair sopping with the same crimson liquid covering her dress; blood smeared across her face and exposed arms. A bright blue cloudless sky hangs over head.
a bloodied Michelle May in “The Outwaters”.

“The Outwaters” is available to stream now, exclusively on ScreamboxTV!

The found footage subgenre is one that requires specific taste and often comes under much scrutiny due to most of them being small independent films with minimal budgets, unknown actors, and the often complained “shaky cam” aesthetic. While these are valid complaints, especially when sifting through a massive library of repetitive tropes and half-assed knockoffs, there are some that manage to sift through the cracks and redefine the subgenre with positive results; whether good or bad. Films like the popular “Paranormal Activity”, produced on a shoe-string budget, only to spawn an entire franchise. Or the infamously reviled “Cannibal Holocaust”, a film shrouded in so much controversy, director Ruggero Deodato was actually placed on trial for the murder of the films actors, even though they were among the living. One also cannot forget the cult classic ’99 film, “The Blair Witch Project”; though it may not have started the found footage subgenre, it most certainly popularized it. “The Outwaters”, written and directed by Robbie Banfitch, is unlike any of the films I previously mentioned, but rather, a jarring new experience unlike any you’ve witnessed. An experimental vision that is exquisitely haunting, graphically perverse, and will leave you terrified of what dwells in the dark.

A Cosmic Journey through Hell

“The Outwaters” unsettling tale of terror follows cameraman Robbie Zogorac (also played by Banfitch) as he takes a trip to the Mojave Desert in hopes to film a music video with his best friend and muse, Michelle (Michelle May). Joining these two companions are Robbie’s distant brother Scott (Scott Schamell) and lastly, their close friend and make-up artist Ange (Angela Basolis). Their majestic trip is quite uneventful at first, as they serenade themselves with music, explore small caverns, and take a quick dip in a quaint little lake filled with glistening teal water. Everything seems to be going perfectly as laughs are being shared whilst they reminisce of memories past and discuss previous hallucinogenic experiences. It is not until these four souls arrive at their camping site when events begin to go awry, bringing their peaceful trip to a savage halt. Ominous booms and cracks of lightning-less thunder begin echoing the night sky, pounding louder with each passing minute. The desert animals howling in fear as vibrations begin to ripple through the ground and surrounding boulders. What was meant to be a trip of bonding and music, quickly shifts into a hellish reality of visceral carnage and cosmic horror.

low camera angle shot of characters Scott, Ange, and Michelle walking in the desert. Spots of clouds patter a beautiful bright blue sky. All that can be seen of Scott is his large hiking backpack, Ange is seen wearing cut of jean shorts and light floral long sleeve shirt carrying a blue sleeping bag, a white hat covers the top of her head blocking the blaring sun. All we see of michelle are her legs and brown cowgirl boots as her summer dress flows in the breeze.
Our journey begins…

Banfitch wastes no time setting the tone for “The Outwaters” by opening the film with a bone chilling recording from a 911 call. Though the title sequence only lasts roughly 30 seconds, the blood-curdling screams mixed with violent gargling sounds and otherworldly noises shrieking through my soundbar sent shivers down my spine. This is only a mere taste of what’s to come later, as the all too familiar setup we have come to expect with most found footage horror films is nothing more than misguided direction. Banfitch takes us by the hand guiding us ever-so gently through the Mojave Desert with a false sense of serenity. He is able to achieve this by including sultry melodies, scenic views, and vivacious multi-colored sunsets bleeding through our screens. Once the light fades and the dark floods over, Banfitch does not hesitate to spiral us down a polarizing descent into gruesome chaos, affectively leaving us to navigate his nightmarish concoction alone and disoriented. Relying only on a single camera and the smallest of flashlights to navigate through the black of night, the small circle of light providing the briefest glimpses to the blood drenched carnage that has ensued, saturating the desert floor. It’s within these moments where the story evolves into something more, relying heavily on its auditory horror and blending of visual stimulations.

Redefining a Subgenre

very dark interior shot of a camping tent. All that can be seen is a violent blood splatter illuminated by faint camera light.
Fear the dark.

While most found footage horror films rely heavily on cliche jump scares, “The Outwaters” instead opts to push its narrative forward with its often times disturbing yet melodic sound design. Michelle’s voice is angelic, soothing the soul as she sings to the light strums from Scott’s guitar. As the film progresses, the calming music evolves into neural despair as Michelle’s voice grows more distorted throughout, building to the inevitable sensory assault that lies in wait. Screeches from slithering creatures mixed with distant roars from anonymous beasts resound in the distance, however, we rarely see these monsters. Rather, Banfitch viciously blindfolds his audience and aggressively shoves them in the dark, forcing us to imagine the extreme brutality being perpetrated off-screen. While there are slight elusions to a more sinister force, it’s the horrific screams from Robbie’s friends the left me feeling uneasy.

close-up shot of Writer/Direct/Actor Robbie Banfitch in pitch blackness. His face illuminate by his camera light. We see blood covering his disoriented face.
Banfitch as “Robbie” in “The Outwaters”.

The performances in “The Outwaters” are nothing short of impressive, including Banfitch as “Robbie”. This in part due to the on-screen chemistry between the actors but, mostly because of how well written each character is. While we aren’t provided much backstory for these victims, they are graced with enough personality for us to develop emotional attachments for each individual. Michelle is a free-spirited new age hippie, seducing us with her alluring voice; Ange captivates with her outgoing personality and comedic timing, while Scott is quiet and reserved. When the laughter and smiles of these characters suddenly shifts to shrieks of agonizing pain, one can’t help but squirm in unpleasantness. Following the night of slaughter, we are left witnessing Robbie’s further descent into hell disoriented, afraid, naked, and alone. He wanders the desert aimlessly crying for help, praying in-between each plead. The more he interacts with a certain flashing ripple of light, the further he loses grip over reality and himself.

What’s unfortunate during “The Outwaters” unwavering brutality is how little is actually revealed visually during the more chaotic moments, especially with a run time nearing two hours. Much of the latter half of “The Outwaters” consist of Robbie filming numerous shots of his feet shuffling in the desert as he reacts to the sounds around him, headache inducing red strobe lighting effects, and extreme close-ups. Those hoping to see any grand reveal of the films ominous monsters or the savagery that befalls on Robbies friends will be met with disappointment. Rather than reward us with visible validation, apart from the films climax, Robbie frustratingly pulls the camera away or turns his already minimal light off. This is disappointing due to the fact Banfitch clearly shows early in “The Outwaters” first half he’s not only a skilled cinematographer but meticulously plans the creativity behind his angles. Whether that be spinning our perspective upside down for juxtaposition, or eerie wide lensed outlines of hatchet wielding shadow figures painted in purple hues. It would have been nice to see more of these creative camera angles at play as opposed to the anonymity we’re forced to endure.

Beautiful wide shot of Robbie's silhouette standing atop a desert hill. His arm is extended up with his boom mic capturing the haunting sounds of the desert night. Hues of deep purples and midnight blues paint the sky above.
Robbie recording eerie audio of the desert night.

Final Verdict

Disorienting upside down shot of Michelle lying in the desert. She is seen wearing the same blood covered dress, her face covered by her messy blonde and crimson caked hair. Her back points towards an inverted sky as the dry cracked desert floor lingers above.
As above, So below

“The Outwaters” is a bold new take on a subgenre that has since grown somewhat stale throughout the years. Writer/Director/Actor Robbie Banfitch dares to redefine the found footage tropes by catapulting the audience into his amalgamation of time loops, religious undertones, and exponential cosmic dread. What makes “The Outwaters” even more impressive is the singular effort that went into creating this film as Banfitch also edited and provided the visual effects. While the first act’s slow burn aesthetic dwells a bit long and the constant pitch-black setting can be exhausting, there wasn’t a time in which I didn’t find myself completely absorbed in Robbie’s depraved journey through hell, constantly guessing what might happen next. Much like the recent “Skinamarink”, “The Outwaters” is an experimental visual experience that will be divisive yet talked about for years to come. You will either find yourself engrossed in the surreal psychedelic nightmare, or utterly confused by the vile images that unfold before your eyes. We all die in the dark.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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Utah transplant TT Hallows now resides in Portland OR haunting the streets of PNW for the past 5 years with his spunky feline companion Gizmo. Horror and writing are his passions, taking special interests in sloshy grindhouse slashers, thought-provoking slow burns, and fright-filled creature flicks; Carnage Candy reigns supreme! When not binging excessive amounts of gratuitous gore, you can find TT Hallows shopping the local thrift and witchcraft shops (oh yes, he's a witch), expertly dancing (or so believes) to New Wave/Dark synth melodies or escaping the monotony of "walking amongst the living" with serene oceanic views and forested hikes. TT Hallows is an up-and-coming horror reviewer/writer for HauntedMTL. Step with me into the void...if you dare.

Movies n TV

The Boys, Beware the Jabberwock, My Son

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We’ve reached episode five of The Boys. And after the last episode’s emotional bombshells, this one had some much-needed levity.

And then a whole bunch more emotional trauma.

The story

We begin this episode with Homelander and Ryan in a meeting regarding a new teenage show. But Ryan doesn’t want to be on a show. He wants to be an actual hero. He wants to do real good and help people. And Homelander, fresh from his therapeutic killing spree, is in a mood to support his son.

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Antony Starr and Cameron Crovetti in The Boys.

For now.

Meanwhile, The Boys are searching for a virus that can kill sups. The last time we saw this virus, it was in the hands of Neuman. They borrow Stan Edgar from jail and go to the lovely family farm upstate.

There, they discover that Neuman’s been testing temp V on farm animals. And it works as well on them as it does on hamsters. Soon the boys find themselves batting killer sheep, chickens and bulls. Hilarity and blood ensues.

What worked

The first thing we have to talk about is the superpowered animals. This was such a fantastic, hilarious situation. I especially loved the flying homicidal sheep. They were hilarious, unexpected, and incredibly gory. One just doesn’t expect to see a sheep covered in blood and guts. But it was delightful.

Karl Urban in The Boys.

The main pull of this episode, though, is the evolving relationship between Homelander and Ryan.

Homelander realizes that he doesn’t want Ryan to be brought up the same way he was. He wants his son to be happy.

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He isn’t trying to be a better person though, and I think that’s important to remember. He loves his son, and he wants his son to be happy. And if being an actual hero and actually helping people will make Ryan happy right now, then that’s what Homelander is going to do.

Except that, since he doesn’t care about people, he is really bad at being a good person. Which is what led to a director getting beaten to death by his assistant.

I’m not saying this beatdown wasn’t cathartic. I’m just saying that it was maybe not something a good person would endorse.

I honestly think this new desire to be an actual hero is going to make Homelander more dangerous. If such a thing is possible.

What didn’t work

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Of course, this episode wasn’t perfect. It brought to light a weakness that’s been irritating me this whole season. And that is the storyline with Hugh Senior.

What are we doing here?

While Hughie’s dad’s health issues are sad, and the sudden reintroduction of his mother is interesting, it has nothing to do with the rest of the season. Every other storyline blends and ties together. You can’t pull one string without all of them coming unraveled.

But not this story. So far, this storyline could be removed entirely and the whole rest of the season would remain pristine. All this storyline seems to have done is to have popped our main character out of the main storyline altogether.

Hughie’s absence is a deficit. I would have loved to see him freak out over the killer chickens. But I also would have liked to see him work with Neuman. I would have liked him to be there to defend Butcher. I would have liked to see him interacting with any other characters at all.

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At this point, no character is purely good or purely bad. And I think that’s important. I’m invested in the story of every single character. And with three episodes left in the season, I can’t wait to see what happens next.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

By the way, if you like my writing you can get my short story, Man In The Woods, on Smashwords and Amazon.

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The Boys, Wisdom of the Ages

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Episode four of The Boys was possibly the darkest episode of the series so far. And I am aware that this alone is an intimidating prospect.

It should be.

The story

Our story in this episode mainly consists of the single most dickish action I have ever seen anyone perform. Sage and Firecracker set up a four-hour show outside Starlight House, to talk about how horrible of a person Annie is.

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Four hours.

Valorie Curry and Susan Heyward in The Boys.

Annie gets everyone out of the building safely but then decides to watch the entire Anti-Annie show. And it is horrific.

The real horror show of this episode, though, is Homelander’s little adventure. After a fight with Ryan, he’s decided to visit his childhood home. Or, at least the place in which he grew up. Because he was raised more like a science experiment than a child.

I don’t think we’ve seen so far exactly what Homelander went through. The horrors he faced as a small child. Things no one should ever have to experience.

Things that the rest of his world will now have to pay for.

What worked

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If you’re paying attention to politics, this episode got way too real. The absolute hypocrisy of our current political situation was on display with superpowers. I especially liked (and by that I mean was enraged by) Firecracker saying that accidentally blinding someone at age thirteen was worse than being an adult and assaulting a minor. Those two things are not the same, and one of them is obviously worse.

Another thing that I appreciated in this episode was the new, and horrific, information we got about Homelander’s childhood.

Do I maybe feel bad for Homelander now? After seeing the dismal and dark little world he was raised in, yeah, I do. That is a monstrous way to treat a child. It’s no wonder he ended up how he is. Even the milk fetish makes more sense. And I am not any more cajoled by the fact that these people were just doing their jobs than Homelander was. That has never been an honest or adequate justification.

This, of course, doesn’t justify the horrors he’s inflicted. It just makes it easier to see how he got to where he is.

Antony Starr in The Boys.

The best fiction inspires strong emotions. It makes us feel things for people who are not real and feel passionate about events that did not happen. It does this by showing us glimmers of real people and real events within these bags of bones and false narratives. And it is because of this that The Boys is succeeding. It’s taking very real moments we are all living through, and embedding them into a fictional narrative. And that’s always going to be more impactful than just burning someone alive.

What didn’t work

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I only had one complaint about this episode. But it did bother me.

When Firecracker’s show starts, Annie makes a point of getting all the kids out of Starlight House to safety. That’s good. But then she sits down with her friends to watch the show.

Why would you watch a four-hour-long live show about why you are a terrible person?

I get asking someone else to watch it and take notes, because in a position like that you need to know what the opposition is saying about you. But for Annie to just watch that unfiltered was asking for trouble. And it’s exactly the sort of trouble that Annie ended up in.

In conclusion, this episode was almost too real. It had my blood boiling. It had me yelling at the TV. And that’s exactly what I want a good story to do.

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We’re halfway through the season now, and I think we’d all better buckle up for what’s coming.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

By the way, if you like my writing you can get my short story, Man In The Woods, on Smashwords and Amazon.

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House of Dragon: S2E3 – Family Feud for Dummies

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In this great episode, we see something we have yet to see in any of the GoT/HoD shows–a dysfunctional family. Wait. I meant, SSDD.

We start out with two people fighting. Why? Why not. I guess they have a blood feud for ages. I mean AGGGGGESSSSSSS. So, of course, we don’t know anything about them what-so-fuck-ever.

Basically, the scene is two girls slapping each other and then one gets an arrow to the knee. The end.

Dead hookers, Kings Hand, and a War Plan

Next up, we have two dead twins, but enough about my sex life. In the show, there are two dead uhhh twins (note to self: deeper holes for twins). Alas poor ermrmm….let’s call them the Ging Twins. We hardly knew. ye.

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Ohhhhh I love this part where a knight that’s fucking the queen and got Poor Sir Ging killed is being late to his first day of class. Naughty Naughty. The rest of the scene is like ‘oh new peeps in white, something something, King is Big Warrior!’. So, this is what it would be like if Joffrey got laid? Hmmmmm….

Daemon arrives at Harrenhal–buyers remorse incoming

Daemon apparently wanted to take over something so he took over a shit hole. It’s almost suspenseful. Almost. I think it would be better to have drug the scene out more to give a sense of how Daemon was thinking about taking this big stronghold but slowly finding out it’s just a ghetto of shit.

For all the grief I give HoD for rehashing old tropes/plots from GoT, this is the one connection that makes sense so far. I like the exploration of a place we hear about in GoT but never got to see much into it. The connection is a way of doing exposition for a series we cared about. This is the first time it really feels like a prequel and not just a stand alone ‘shit pile’ they put the skin of GoT on.

We also get to see something of a character development for Daemon. This is something I really. hope others get a chance to get–characters. Maybe this is just the actor putting everything on his timey-wimey shoulders. Maybe that’s what the real turn for the character is–Matt Smith just going ‘fuck it’ and hitting for the fences.

Rhaenyra’s Diplomatic Mission, Some Politics, and Ser Cole Gets Jiggy Wit It

So like even though you fucked my dad and like made sure I wasn’t queen and then like started a war and like your bastards killed my son and like, you know, maybe we can be friends and end this war?

I heard this part of the scene was ad-lib. The writers had just this for direction: Think of the stupidest thing you can think of for your character to say and just go with it! Oh, and if you can tie in a previous episode of a better show into it–even better!

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While that happens, political people are like ‘lets use a dragon. The show is called house of dragon, not house of weird random call backs to the future happenings of GoT’. Speaking of GoT, remember when the small council meetings were interesting? Like you wanted to know the twists and turns of it? You know why those were better? Because you gave a shit about the characters who made up the council. Even when the Queen remakes her council after her dad’s death, we still cared. We didn’t know them as well, but we cared because we knew the people they replaced were better for the job. So we had an interest in ‘how doth they fucketh this up’.

Here is more like…well, put it this way. Take pictures of the people on both councils. Then cut them into single head shots. Now, shuffle. Can you name the person? Hell, can you even name which side that person is on? That’s my point.

Oh and Cole goes off with the queen’s brother to attack something. A dragon happens. They go awwwhwhwhwhwhwhw!! Then run away like little girls.

Change your whores more than you change your undies

So pirate eye blondie is caught by king blondie using the same whore as he did before. Guess this is what rich kids count as shame.

Oh and surprise to nobody–the Queen admits that maybe Rhaenyra should have been ruler, but shit happens so it’s like too far gone stop now. Let’s have everyone kill each other and that way the gods will decide who the king really meant to give the throne to when he said, ‘I want my daughter Rhaenyra to be ruler’.

Final Comments and rating

It’s starting to pick up, but it seems that every time that it does pick up the writers go ‘fuck it’ and swerve directly into the ditch.

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I don’t think the lack of action is a problem in this series. I think taking things slower in places and cutting down the cast to a manageable number (or at least give them a different look/name type so we can tell them apart) might be the thing needed to bring this show into a better footing. Will it ever be GoT? No. Sadly, I think it’s trying so hard to connect to GoT plots that it waters itself down. Instead of giving us a fascinating look at an older time, we get a constant reminder of just how much we miss GoT. 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

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