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The Outwaters Explained – Portals to Hell, the Event Horizon, and Time Loops

February 9, 2023

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

It’s not pretty and certainly not palatable, but for those who are fans of found footage, this could be the answer to tired tropes. It’s a mental journey of shady horrors that confuses the mind throughout the 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 first viewing, it’s just as confusing to the viewer as the unhappy souls we see descending into hell. This 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), walk through a remote part of the desert to shoot a music video for Michelle. They planned to camp for a few days and go home for editing. They are hopeful and have a tried and tested comfortable chemistry. Our unfortunates get a generous amount of runtime to establish who they are. It makes the back half of the film, when things get really fast, all the more impactful. The last half of The Outwaters is a chaotic nightscape of confusing imagery, hideous violence and self-harm that has to be seen to be believed. It is literally Hell.

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

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What happened to the four people in the desert could be interpreted in many ways if it weren’t for a found movie. The camera angle means everything we’re looking at is live action during their time in the desert. It is not to be interpreted or discussed. We see what really 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, all can’t be the explanation.

This once optimistic group somehow fell on sacred ground, and the devil or Gaia drove them mad, hunted them down, and killed them or forced them to commit suicide. This explanation is the simplest but requires the added element of a time loop to make it work. Small details barely recorded on first viewing support this theory.

People could have fallen into this hellish loop forever. That’s why no bodies are ever found, and why the gas mask and downed road sign get such eerie attention in the film’s final act. It was to help us orient ourselves to the fact that it’s not the same place in time or place. It looks the same, but it constantly spins around and has probably been claiming victims for a very long time. Depending on who you think wields the axe, it could be a former victim of the place, a demon, or Robbie himself from a later time loop, like in Christopher Smith’s Time Triangle . Banfitch uses red water and physics-defying starry skies to interpret Robbie’s journey through time. Maybe given enough opportunities, he could have found his way back. We will never know.

Robbie’s mom, the plane and the booms in the desert in The Outwaters

So many terrifying details of the film remain unexplained. Do the booms that the group hears rip from one world to another? Since Robbie sees his own band march before all hell breaks loose later in the film, we know that time has already started to loop in on itself, the band is already doomed. By capturing his earlier self on camera, Robbie confirms that time is not linear here. The space seems to disrupt their perception so much that 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 heartbreaking preview of his airplane flight suggest that this loop may have started long before the band even arrived in the desert. Maybe it started before his plane trip. Perhaps the earthquakes seen repeatedly during the early parts of The Outwaters opened up something that should have remained buried.

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The Outwaters

Who is the ax man?

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

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

It doesn’t matter who wields the axe, because this bewitching, dizzying, nauseating space is to be avoided at all costs. Robbie captures shots of his debut and his band several times throughout the film, and it’s only after he completely breaks down that we record what he actually saw. It’s a loopy hell with no escape. Similar to The Endless, but even deadlier, this is an inherently bad place.

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Banfitch, who wrote, directed and starred in The Outwaters, released today, has created a new take on the found footage subgenre. The loose and surreal narrative experience proves that indie horror is where the future of horror lies. Whether it’s in Skinarink’s childhood fears or the feminine fears of identity in Huesara The Bone Woman, there’s something exciting going on in the horror today waged by these microbudget pioneers who don’t are not afraid to take risks.

It’s hard to describe The Outwaters without warning viewers. This is not the Blair Witch Project. Nor is it a slow burn. It’s fifty minutes of character setup, followed by almost an hour of pure mayhem and gonzo gore. Never has a film disconcerted me so much on first viewing. The following watches, however, offer more clarity. The Outwaters is in theaters today and will stream on Screambox later this year. Watch it on the big screen first to truly appreciate this mind-blowing experience.

Tracy Palm Tree

As the editor of 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.

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