The Outwaters’ Robbie Banfitch Talks Indy Filmmaking And What Really Happened In The Desert
The future of horror is independent filmmaking. The writers and directors with little more than an idea and some equipment they cobbled together with money found in their couches often produce the most exciting ideas. They have to because they don’t have the luxury of financial support and huge company resources. They also can take risks that the big names can’t. No one is looking over their shoulder, telling them they can’t or shouldn’t do something. They can do what they want as long as they can figure out a way to make it happen. It makes for bold cinema. One of those brave new voices is Robbie Banfitch, whose new horror film The Outwaters does what many have tried to do and failed.
He showed the unseeable, the unknowable, and the indescribable. His experimental film is an assault on the senses. It is a nonstop ride to Hell via a crazy train called cosmic dread. Set in the Mohave desert, The Outwaters is the story of four friends shooting a music video when an unstoppable mysterious force destroys their lives, bodies, and sanity. I got a chance to pick the brain of this unassuming yet brilliant guy who seemed shocked anyone would love his movie. Humble and hungry, Banfitch is a name to remember.
The unpretentious filmmaker is incredibly modest and seemed surprised that his soon-to-be cult classic has taken off. He was gracious with his time and, unfortunately, tight-lipped with many of his movie’s biggest secrets, but I managed to pry a few details from his clever and warped mind.
Banfitch loved The Blair Witch Project, and his micro-budget was a perfect fit to create his version of a found-footage horror movie. The sometimes tired format got an update by giving us exactly what we thought we would see if we were in a found footage movie. The frames are disorienting and odd, and less is shown than heard. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience that Banfitch leaned into out of practicality. Having complete control over the process and being able to work with his friends was a huge draw.
What started as a necessity garnered tremendous results by delivering to the audience something that will be discussed for years. It’s uncommon to honestly be shocked by a horror movie. So much of it, we have seen and heard before. The Outwaters is that rare example of unique storytelling that underpromises and over-delivers. It tells a story but does so in such a creative way there is plenty of room for interpretation. It also is deeply unsettling.
Because this movie is so different from anything else you will have seen, it doesn’t follow the same found footage rules you are used to. When asked about what the rules were, Banfitch replied that he had a few hard and fast rules but that they were malleable. He said that “It is actually being filmed,” It has to be found and can’t be edited,” and “Whatever is happening can manipulate how things look.” He continued, “There were rules, but there are no rules. The rule is no rules because of the rule of chaos”. Those who have seen the movie can certainly understand what he means. There is an organized chaos in the back half of the film that feels very much like you are watching a horrific, confusing free fall into a hellscape from which there can be no escape.
Although the original Blair Witch Project was a significant influence, there were others. Notably, Session 9 is one of his favorite movies; he thinks it is one of the “scariest films ever made.” He admits there are elements woven into The Outwaters if you are looking for them. Fans of the psychological horror film will recognize the same sort of oppressive dread that Session 9 does so well, even if the story and setting are so different.
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One of the most bizarre but oddly comedic pieces of Banfitch’s film is the appearance of a group of wild donkeys. Sometimes nature is weirder than anything we can imagine, which is very much what The Outwaters is saying. He said he wasn’t initially very excited about the donkeys until he began shooting them and realized how well they worked into the story. Their appearance lends an otherworldly normalcy to the film, especially as things deteriorate entirely.
The sound design is one of the most essential parts of the experience. Because so much of the film is seen only through the beam of a flashlight, the soundtrack dictates where the viewer’s minds go. Everything is bombastic and intentionally abusive to the ears. The sounds were all very “organic and exploratory.” He used sounds from libraries but manipulated everyone to create the specific sounds that each thing in the desert had. The end result is a masterful mix of the unimaginable and terrifyingly familiar.
Batfitch was more cagey about what actually happened in the desert, but he did say, “It’s supposed to be un-understandable.” He also didn’t want to give too much away and spoil others’ experiences. Banfitch didn’t “want to take anyone else’s interpretation away.” He intuitively understands discussion is the best form of advertising he could ask for. When asked if Robbie and his friends fell into a time loop Hellmouth, he said there could be a Hellmouth, and he admits there are time loop clues throughout.”The title cards don’t lie.” It may require multiple viewing to catch all the clues.
When asked what is next, he said he has a new horror movie that will premiere at the Unnamed Footage Festival In March. His latest film, Tinsmen Road, is also found footage but nothing like The Outwaters. Instead, it is more reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project in look and feel. It is a character-focused horror film starring Banfitch and his mother, who was also in The Outwaters.
Horror lovers and those willing to take a chance on something different shouldn’t sleep on The Outwaters. It is a wildly audacious take on cosmic dread and found footage. Gory and disturbing, it is experimental in the truest form while still nodding to the greats that influenced it. After watching, you can find our full explained piece here. The Outwaters is currently streaming on Screambox and VOD everywhere.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.