“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.
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
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.
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.
“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 / 5)
Shutter Island (2010): Review
Leonardo Dicaprio’s films rarely disappoint. It was interesting to see him flex different acting muscles in this psychological thriller Shutter Island alongside Mark Ruffalo and Michelle Williams. When I say that I was not expecting such a turn in the story, I mean that my jaw was pretty much on the floor the entire time. Without any further ado, let’s dive into its mastery, shall we?
A cliché setup done right
We have been here before a million times. A character stumbles into a scene to solve a mystery. Everyone is acting just the right amount of suspicion to make you wonder. Dicaprio’s Edward ‘Teddy’ travels to an extremely remote island where a woman goes missing from a psychiatric institution. He’s experiencing migraines and flashbacks to his murdered wife while receiving little to no help from the hospital staff.
Teddy soon suspects that the hospital is experimenting on patients which fuels his theories on what happened to the missing woman. Things take even more of a turn when his partner also disappears. Unsurprisingly, everyone insists Teddy came to the island alone. Feeling like he’s losing his mind, our protagonist finds out that this is exactly the case. He is a patient in the hospital and the entire investigation is an attempt to get him to understand the truth.
While the whole ‘it was all in your head’ trope has a bad rep for the fans of any genre, this film uses it masterfully. Watching it for the first time not knowing what to expect is obviously a shock and then watching it again, looking at all the clues that were the which you missed – that’s a treat on its own. After all, there’s nothing inherently wrong with using cliches if they are done the right way.
Things that go bump in our minds
A huge part of this movie’s storyline is Andrew’s inability to process the truth. The roots for it stretch far beyond the plot twist. Andrew is unable to acknowledge that his wife is mentally ill and believes that moving them to the countryside will fix everything. After she murders their children, he is further pushed into the world of delusion, convincing himself to be a hero because he couldn’t save his own family.
It’s interesting to note that in his delusion, Andrew is the one who set fire to their house. Is this a little sliver of his mind whispering the truth to him? Is it his subconscious villainizing himself out of contempt, searching for answers that are never going to come? Andrew’s psychiatrist pointed out that his moment of clarity has happened before, only to be undone quite quickly. Perhaps it was easier for Andrew to shut it off rather than live with the knowledge that he could’ve done something to prevent a terrible tragedy.
Shutter Island is a movie that provides both the entertainment value you would expect from a suspense thriller and a deeper layer of thought. Coated with a perfect atmosphere and amazing acting, it’s a piece that will definitely hold the test of time. (4.5 / 5)
Wheel of Time, Daughter of The Night
We’ve reached episode four of Wheel of Time, which means we’re halfway through the season. While it doesn’t seem like much has happened so far, this is the episode where things start heating up.
We begin this episode with a flashback. Ishamael is raising something dark and twisted. As we watch, it takes the shape of a woman.
More on that in a bit.
Meanwhile, Nynaeve is healing from her time in the arches. She is quiet and withdrawn. She’s also awkward and uncomfortable around Egwene now that she’s initiated and Egwene is not. Her new friendship with Elayne isn’t helping.
But the three girls come together when Liandrin tells Nynaeve that Perrin has been captured by the Seanchan.
However, Perrin is no longer in the clutches of the Seanchan. He was rescued by Elyas and a pack of beautiful wolves. Beautiful and deadly AF by the way. If you have any fear of dogs, this episode might not help that.
Elyas explains to Perrin that he is a Wolf Brother. This means that he can communicate with the wolves, and eventually will gain some of their abilities. While Perrin and Elyas don’t exactly get off on the right foot, he does find a fast friendship with one specific wolf. After a time, he introduces himself by showing Perrin an image of himself jumping up and down. From this, Perrin assumes his name is Hopper.
Finally, we return to Rand. He and Selene have been off in the mountains. They haven’t done much more than each other so far.
And that’s exactly what it appears they’re about to do when Moiraine bursts into the cottage and cuts Selene’s throat.
Rand is surprised and furious until Moiraine explains that the woman he knows as Selene is the Dark Friend Lanfear. With this shocking revelation, the two run off into the night.
It should be a surprise to no one that I loved the wolves in this episode. Hopper himself was worth an extra Cthulhu. But this is not just because dogs are cute. It’s also because the dog playing Hopper just does a great job.
On a more serious note, I loved how Nynaeve responded upon coming back to the real world. She isn’t okay.
And it’s a good thing that she isn’t. Too often in fiction we don’t see the fallout of emotional damage. Hell, we don’t usually see realistic fallout from physical damage.
But she is hurt by what she experienced. And you can tell. That’s realistic character building, and we don’t see that enough.
I also really appreciate the special effects in this episode. The first time we see Lanfear, she’s eerie. She’s frightening. Part of this is thanks to Natasha O’Keeffe, who does a great job. But the effects are what really sells this.
What didn’t work
If Wheel of Time has any fault, it’s that there is far too much sitting about and talking about things. In this case, there’s a lot of standing about and talking about things. Some of this was necessary, and some of it could have been done better. Honestly, there just has to be a better way to convey that characters are struggling.
This was most apparent with Rand and Selene/Lanfear. Honestly, anytime the two of them were on screen it was a great time for me to catch up on Instagram.
This might come as a surprise to anyone who hasn’t read the books, but Rand is supposed to be the main character. And here we are, four episodes into an eight-episode season, and so far all he’s done is mess about with his emo girlfriend!
That being said, the story is starting to pick up. With four episodes left, I can’t wait to see how far we go.
(3 / 5)
Elevator Game, a Film Review
Elevator Game (2023) is directed by Rebekah McKendry and is the first feature-length production of Fearworks.
Elevator Game (2023) is directed by Rebekah McKendry and is the first feature-length production of Fearworks. It adapts the supernatural myth and creepypasta of the same name while providing an original plot. This unrated Shudder exclusive stars Gino Anania, Samantha Halas, and Verity Marks. In full disclosure, I had the opportunity to interview Gino Anania and Stefan Brunner about the film.
Ryan seeks to find answers to his sister’s mysterious disappearance. To do this, he infiltrates a myth-busting web series that seems to have some ties to her final confirmed moments. Desperate to force a confrontation, he encourages them to play the elevator game. Unfortunately, there seems to be more truth to the myth than expected.
What I Like about Elevator Game & as an Adaptation
I am lucky to have additional insight into the development hell this movie overcame due to COVID. It’s commendable that the film manages to make it of that, even if it requires a lengthy delay of the film.
Usually, I provide a separate section for adaptation quality. However, the source material remains the ritual, which Elevator Game performs accurately. While the myth inspires many creepypastas, Elevator Game doesn’t directly take or adapt any of these works from what I’ve seen. Instead, it makes its own film based on the legend.
As the Fifth Floor Woman, Samantha Halas creates an eerie and disturbing character. While I won’t go so far as to say terrifying, she certainly makes an impression. The revelation that the stunts and performance are all her, as an actual contortionist, I give her more credit.
Gino Anania, given a more complex role than most of his cast members, really does bring a strong performance that creates either friction or synergy with his cast members. I suppose I wanted more of these interactions as some cut sooner than appreciated.
Another amusing element is that the entire motivation for the plot to follow is a forced advertisement from an investor. Something about the chaos being a product of appeasing some investors feels uncomfortably real.
The alternate reality remains surprisingly effective. To be clear, it’s not impressively realistic but stylistic. It genuinely seems like an alternate world with a skewered impression.
Tired Tropes or Trigger Warning
I feel weird mentioning this, but endangering a sister’s life to push the brother’s story forward seems a common trend beyond one form of media.
No discredit to the actors, but the romance feels rushed and unnecessary. Without going into too much detail, to avoid spoilers, there is synergy between the actors but little chemistry in the plot.
What I Dislike or Considerations
Elevator Game remains set in providing a B-movie experience. Its tight budget leaves little room to surprise the viewer visually. While I am surprised at what it accomplishes, it’s far from overwhelming. This film also remains the first production of Fearworks, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. I’m interested in the future, but Elevator Game leaves much to grow from.
Rebekah McKendry may have a directorial style that influences dialogue, but the line delivery evokes an overexpression that’s common in Lovecraftian films. I say this not as a direct negative, but it remains a required taste best known before viewing. As this isn’t Lovecraftian, I fear it removes some of the reality and tension of those haunting elements.
Many of the characters feel underdeveloped, making me wonder if cutting these roles might lead to more invested characters. While the performances hit their marks, a tighter cast might give each role more to work toward. As this is a tight cast already, it seems an odd issue to rectify.
Elevator Game provides an interesting B-movie experience for those who know the legend. For those expecting something different, this film may not work for you. This film overcame a lot to exist but doesn’t break the mold. While I am excited to see Fearworks pursue further ventures toward its ambitious mission statement, I find Elevator Game falling short of its goal.
(2 / 5)