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The Outwaters Explained- Portals To Hell, Event Horizon, And Time Loops

Lovecraftian horror isn’t usually synonymous with found footage, nor is it terribly gory. It can be gross but not Antichrist-level gore, if you know what I mean. The very nature of the subgenre technique makes the possibility of cosmic horror incongruous. How do you film the indescribable, the inconceivable, and the unfilmable? Robbie Banfitch’s labor of almost singular horror love manages to do just that. If you ever wanted to know what an hour of Event Horizon’s blood orgy sequence would look like, The Outwaters is the answer. Put together in three separate memory cards; it shows what Hell looks like and what it would do to the minds of those trapped there.

It isn’t pretty and definitely not palatable, but for those who are fans of found footage, it might be the answer to the tired tropes. It’s a mind trip of interloping horrors that messes with the mind throughout the entire disorienting playtime. The Outwaters is the kind of movie where you look around to see if anyone else knows what to do when it ends. On the first viewing, it is just as confusing for the viewer as the unfortunate souls we watch descend into Hell. That begs the question. What did we just watch, and what really happened in The Outwaters? Here’s everything you need to know.

A group of four people, including Robbie(Banfitch doing triple duty), Ange(Angela Basolis), Michelle(Michelle May), and Scott(Scott Schamell), hike into a remote part of the desert to shoot a music video for Michelle. They planned to camp for a few days and return home for editing. They are hopeful and have a comfortable chemistry that reads as time-tested. Our unfortunate gets a generous amount of runtime to establish who they are. It makes the back half of the movie, when things get really bloody fast, that much more impactful. The last half of The Outwaters is a chaotic nightscape of confusing images, hideous violence, and self-mutilation that must be seen to be believed. It is literal Hell.

It’s presented as found footage, so the typical it was all in their mind device doesn’t work. In a recent interview with writer/director Robbie Banfitch, he alludes to the fact that everything we see happened in some way but that even the film equipment could have been altered by where they were and what happened. Presumably, the terrible place they found themselves alters perception, time, and matter.

What happened to the four people in the desert could be interpreted in many ways if this wasn’t a found footage film. The footage angle means everything we watch is actual footage shot during their time in the desert. It isn’t up for interpretation or discussion. We see what actually happened and was captured on camera and stored on memory cards. The 911 call really happened too. Things like they all ingested something they shouldn’t or were exposed to a toxin and hallucinated everything can’t be the explanation.

This once optimistic group somehow stumbled onto hallowed ground, and the Devil or Gaia drove them crazy, stalked them, and killed them or made them kill themselves. This explanation is the most straightforward but requires the additional element of a time loop to make it work. Little details that are barely registered in the first viewing lend support for this theory.

People could have been falling into this Hell loop forever. That is why no bodies are ever found and why the gas mask and downed street sign get such strange focus in the film’s final act. That was to help orient us to the fact that this isn’t the same place in time or place. It looks the same, but it is constantly looping in on itself and probably has been claiming victims for a very long time. Depending on who you think wields the ax, it could be a previous victim of the place, a demon, or Robbie himself from a later time loop, as in Christopher Smith’s time-winding Triangle. Banfitch uses the red water and physics-defying starry skies to interpret Robbie’s journey through time. Maybe given enough opportunity, he could have found his way home. We will never know.

Robbie’s Mom, the airplane, and booms in the desert in The Outwaters

So many of the terrifying details of the film are left unexplained. Are the booms the group hears the tearing open of one world into another? Since Robbie sees his own group walking before all Hell breaks loose later in the film, we know time has already started looping onto itself the group is already doomed. By Robbie capturing his earlier self on the camera, it solidifies that time isn’t linear here. The space seems to mess with their perception so much it’s hard to tell where a messy mind desperately clinging to rationality begins and manipulation ends. Robbie’s heartbreaking scene with his mother and the harrowing glimpse of his plane ride hint that maybe this loop began long before the group even got to the desert. Maybe it started before his plane ride. Perhaps the earthquakes seen several times during the early parts of The Outwaters opened up something that should have stayed buried.

The Outwaters

Who is the man with the ax?

After what happened to our group, one of the most essential questions is, who is the man seen in silhouette with the ax? We know in the early moments of their nightmare, Robbie is hit in the head and says his head is raining. He could have meant it was ringing or that the blood from a head wound and the trauma confused him. The Robbie that existed at that time could not have hit himself over the head with an ax, but a later version could have. We know he picks up the ax at one point, and the ax man stands over Robbie as he kneels on the ground, begging him to go away.

We never see anything other than bloody, abnormal-looking legs, so it could be anything from a demon to a later version of himself driven mad by his ordeal. In any case, this ax man attacked his friends and presumably killed them. Robbie catches up to each of them at various points in his ordeal, but by the end, he is the only one left. It’s never spelled out who killed the other three and mounted their heads on poles. It could be another version of Robbie driven mad by being trapped in this loop or another person in a similar predicament. It could also be a demon from Hell having some fun.

It hardly matters who wields the ax, as this mesmerizing, dizzying, nauseating space should be avoided at all costs. Robbie captures views of his early self and his group several times during the film, and it isn’t until his complete breakdown that we register what he really saw. This is a looping hell of no escape. Similar to The Endless, only even more deadly, this is an inherently evil place.

Banfitch, who wrote, directed, and starred in The Outwaters, out today, has created a fresh take on the found footage subgenre. The narratively loose, surreal experiment proves that indy horror is where the future of horror lies. Whether it be in the childhood fears of Skinamarink, or the womanly fears of identity in Huesara The Bone Woman, there is something exciting happening in horror today led by these microbudget trailblazers who aren’t afraid to take risks.

It’s hard to describe The Outwaters without cautioning viewers. This isn’t The Blair Witch Project. This isn’t a slow burn, either. It is fifty minutes of character setup, followed by nearly an hour of sheer chaos and gonzo gore. Never has a film confounded me so much on the first viewing. Subsequent watches provide more clarity, though. The Outwaters is in theaters today and will be streaming on Screambox later this year. See it on the big screen first to truly appreciate this mind-blowing experience.