Outwaters review: A found movie that breaks all the rules

The horror subgenre’s greatest claim to fame has always been its claim to authenticity – films like The Blair Witch Project or the original Paranormal activity they were conceived as facsimiles so convincing of real life that they should have been indistinguishable from the final work of some doomed amateur documentary filmmaker. But as the subgenre expanded, producing major films like (RECORDING.) and horrible like Chernobyl Diaries, the idea of ​​these films capturing “real life” has become an excuse for low-budget, low-fidelity films. That’s what it does The Maritime Watersthe new horror movie written, directed by, and starring Robbie Banfitch, so interesting: It uses the trappings of found footage just enough that Banfitch can cleverly bend the rules when things get really scary.

The Maritime Waters follows a group of four 30-somethings who venture into the desert in hopes of shooting the perfect music video. The film begins quite recognizably: Robbie (Banfitch), a documentary filmmaker of sorts, holds the camera, capturing moments of the group’s life together and their early days in the desert in extreme close-up. This gives the film a notable sense of eerie solitude right from the start, as the open Mojave envelops them.

Photo: Cinedigm

But even in these early moments, the camera does more than report what is happening, as found footage typically does. Instead, it also shows us Robbie’s thoughts and yearnings, letting us sit with him as he films Michelle (Michelle May), the singer in his group, for far longer than he should. These moments seem to be in line with The Maritime Waters‘ style, but they’re directly antithetical to the usual tropes of found footage. These knocks would sound weird in the real world and would certainly be talked about by Robbie’s friends, let alone his real girlfriend. Rather, they are the first real clue that The Maritime Waters is pushing the boundaries of found footage rather than playing by its rules.

Breaking even further with conventions, The Maritime Waters does not increase its action like most horrors encountered. Instead of subtly drawing out increasingly creepy moments before letting things really open up, Banfitch focuses heavily on the friends’ normal camping trip for an exhausting (and utterly long) 45 minutes. Once the characters finally get into trouble, all hell breaks loose.

This is where the real gimmick of the film begins. Characters die, characters get hurt, strange men appear with axes and frame the horizon, and most importantly, Robbie completely loses control. The further away from reality he gets, the more his footage changes into something that seems to be pulled directly from his slowly warping brain, rather than any kind of camera.

Michelle May from The Outwaters walking through desert plants

Photo: Cinedigm

Getting these shots almost from Robbie’s point of view is a fantastically disorienting experience. Banfitch is still conscious of the camera and still uses its limitations frequently, which makes the subjective changes even harder to detect and more unnerving. It looks like something went over Robbie’s shoulder to hold the camera for him, just so we could get a sense of whatever new and grossly bloody task his vanishing mind has set him.

When it’s working, The Maritime Waters it seems that the audience has been invited to witness the horrors that go through Mike’s head at the end of The Blair Witch Project as he looks into the corner in the basement. Robbie becomes a witness to the terrors of frayed reality, but also to things more cosmic and less earthly, and we get to see both firsthand thanks to the film’s mix of his footage and his meltdown. At its best, The Maritime Waters it puts us so far inside Robbie’s brain that we can’t get the distance we want to understand what’s being shown. But he encounters his biggest problems when he snaps back to reality for more concrete scares.

Among the problems with this ethereal method of filmmaking – which at times borders on being just experimental first-person film – is that it’s rarely easy to keep the camera focused on whatever’s going on with the characters. Often, Banfitch obscures The Maritime Waters‘ greatest moments, undermining its frightening potential. Scenes in the back half of the film are often lit by flashlights or not lit at all, making the action frustratingly difficult to see and obscuring what could have been more significant spooky additions to the film. The near-blindness is a little unnerving, but it’s more confusing than anything else, leaving some sections lacking any sense of direction or fear.

Perhaps The Maritime Waters‘ The issue most definitely inspired by found footage comes in its framing device: a series of three flashcards that we are to believe were found somewhere in the desert, the last evidence of the characters’ disappearance. This is a classic of the subgenre: the “Everything can be real!” pretend some found movies used to give the movie some real-world weight. But The Maritime Waters don’t need that trick. Its footage is effective enough on its own, especially when we’re witnessing things that seem impossible for the camera to capture, which strains the memory card framing beyond belief. Real immersion is great, but fake immersion doesn’t keep up.

A character from The Outwaters lies in the desert in bloodied clothes in an upside down photo

Photo: Cinedigm

The Maritime Waters not as big a subversion of the found footage subgenre as something like Joel Anderson’s 2008 horror mockumentary mung lake, where inherent falsehood is built not only into the plot, but also into its conclusion. In mung lakethe idea that the images on the screen are false is fundamental, calling into question the veracity of the story, the subjectivity of the person telling it and whether anything should be trusted, even in a fiction film. mung lake uses the questions behind the found images as a stand-in for the different ways we process grief and the ways the dead remain with some of us in photographs and memories (and perhaps elsewhere) long after they are gone.

While The Maritime Waters it never entirely hits those lofty highs, likewise it demands more from its audience than the average film finds. It works within the confines of the genre just long enough to break traditions, and when all hell breaks loose, it’s so far beyond the confines of the subgenre that it becomes something else entirely. The mix of point-of-view shots, traditional found footage, and the sense of some strange observer detached from time or reality creates an effect that takes us deeper into Robbie’s mind than a more conventional horror film ever could.

The Maritime Waters is in select theaters now. Can be streamed on screambox or rented on VOD from services such as amazon or YouTube.

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