Film review: The Outwaters

An effective and disturbing found footage horror

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The Outwaters (from 8 May, online) is the latest in a long line of found footage horror films that stretch back to 1999’s Blair Witch Project and beyond. Four cool, hipster friends set out to make a music video whilst camping in the sun-drenched Mojave Desert, only to stumble into a seemingly never-ending nightmare that (literally) tears them apart.

The opening few minutes set the tone. A terrifying recording of a 911 emergency call in which a woman is screaming against the background of various other weirdly disturbing noises can be heard as the operators tries to make sense of it all. A few slides inform us we’re about to bear witness to recently discovered video evidence reassembled by the authorities and then the film starts proper.

For the first 40 minutes very little happens. There’s the odd earthquake caught on camera, a nasty electrical storm, lots of sand and big blue skies and banter. The audio track is particularly engaging. Natural sounds like wind, rain and thunder pepper the soundtrack and draw you in, and there are some pleasant musical moments as well. The weirdness is introduced slowly. Strange noises in the dark. A sense that there is something buried beneath the sun-baked earth. An axe is found. And then all hell breaks loose.

The second half of the film is a relentless assault on the senses. There is little in the way of plot and much of what is seen is lit only from the small light of the video camera and often covered in blood.

The film doesn’t get away from the problem most found footage movies suffer from – one can’t help but wonder why the person holding the camera is, well, still holding the camera. If I was being assaulted by terrifying alien-like snakes that scream as they race across the sand, I wouldn’t be filming them. But as a thrill ride into terror, this is pretty effective. Writer-director Robbie Banfitch doesn’t keep us in the dark all the way. A tiny hint about what might be going on is given via a half-uncovered noticeboard in the sand and the ending, back out in full glaring desert sunlight, is stomach churningly explicit. Watch with care.

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