The Outwaters (2023)

Director: Robbie Banfitch

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Certification: 18

Starring: Robbie Banfitch, Angela Basolis, Scott Schamell, Michelle May, Leslie Ann Banfitch

Opening the film in startling fashion, writer/director Robbie Banfitch begins with a 911 call playing. While the operator responds to haunting screams, people's photos appear on-screen alongside their names, ages, and the dates they were last seen. This attention-grabbing opening leads into further text, which sets up how the following feature is presented as found-footage recovered from memory cards.

Aspiring film-maker Robbie (Banfitch) recruits his brother Scott (Scott Schamell), and their friend Angela (Angela Basolis), to film a music-video in the Mojave desert starring their singer friend, Michelle (Michelle May). As the camping trip unfolds in the sun-drenched desert, the group soon realises something is not right as a mysterious force transforms the trip into a descent into darkness.

What's initially presented resembles home-videos of the friends enjoying each-others company, with the hangout vibe broken by the odd earthquake. Banfitch presents his real-life relationships with the cast, hoping it will effectively translate onto screen. While there's a clear camaraderie between the characters, it did not require a good portion of the 110-minute runtime. When the slow pace is spent aimlessly wandering, it feels needlessly indulgent.

One wishes this portion benefitted the characterisation more, as the core quartet feel underdeveloped. Using Michelle as an example, the mentions of her recently deceased mother should provide a chilling context for her desperate cries in the dark for her mother. This doesn't work because she doesn't feel like a character thrust into a hellish scenario while grappling with grief, but an assembly of traits with little to flesh her out. What's unfortunate is this isn't the rarity among the small cast.

While there are many odd occurrences the characters encounter, including donkeys inexplicably blocking the road, and a booming noise awakening them at night, what best conveys the mysterious circumstances is the sound design. The location and atmosphere are excellently conveyed by what's heard, generating a sense of the uncanny to effectively unsettle viewers.

As things grow worse, the sound magnificently conveys the horrors heard. Thank goodness viewers can engage that sense, as what unfolds in the darkness can become difficult to make out. When what's onscreen can be seen, a disorientating experience is witnessed as a slowly revealing nightmare is unveiled amidst the cosmic chaos. While Banfitch aims high with this feature, the execution unfortunately falls short despite the visceral ending.

The Outwaters is available in cinemas now and on Digital from 8th May