The Outwaters: The Mojave Psychedelics Massacre

Gone. Wandering through the emptiness. The promise and the punishment of the infinite dusty horizon. Looking at yourself and seeing someone else, crumbling in the recesses of your own mind, scrambling to grab ahold of the dregs of humanity we have left but we can only climb into a fresh pit of hell. No way forward, no way back. We have looked into the cosmos and it has looked back with punitive malevolence, abstracting our existence until it becomes dust in the stars, meaningless, invisible, incoherent. We do not exist, they do not exist, nothing exists, and what is perceived in between is only here to disembowel, to turn skin to ribbons and blood to rivers. It is the land of death, cracked and suffering beneath a merciless sun. Reasons only as clear as our own perception, warped and chewed up and spit out with the rest of our innards. No time for reasons when our corpses litter the muddy valley and the drugs have cracked our skulls and poured our minds onto the boiling rocky surfaces like eggs. We’ve moved beyond this plane into somewhere much, much worse.

Robbie Banfitch’s The Outwaters is a delirious, phantasmagoric, found footage nightmare, one that perceives and leverages the limitations of its format to create horror that truly eats away at the mind. Where found footage often becomes an exercise in justifying itself or trying to weave coherent narrative through frustrating contrivance, here we eschew both in favor of what feels truly found, a loose collection of filmed existence strung together to form something that resembles an experience far more than it does a specific narrative. Most succinctly, Ken Russell’s Altered States (1980) by way of Tobe Hooper’s scuzz and grime, filtered through a lens of millennial burnout aimlessness. The Coachella crowd butchered by their own lost desires, looking for meaning in the infinite psychedelia and finding nothing but bone crunching terror.

The Outwaters. Dir. Robbie Banfitch.

Loosely, the film follows a group of friends traveling deep into the Mojave Desert to shoot a music video, though the details are hazy and tertiary at best, quickly warping itself from a fuzzy but familiar reality to a nerve shredding dread as the world stops spinning and coats itself in blood and dust. As the sun dips below the horizon everything seems to float in and out of reality, a bizarre collection of terrifying imagery that slowly throttles into full tilt unhinged surrealism with a complete disinterest in anything concrete or grounded. Sinew, dirt, and death flood the empty landscape, no sense of who or what is the source of the violence with little time to consider the ramifications as every character scrambles furiously for their own survival.

It’s a pitch perfect evocation of guttural terror, an understanding of how to brew a horror landscape that gets under the skin and into the stomach. As grimy and gory as Eaten Alive (1976) but with a Lovecraftian haze of the unknown, psychedelics bleeding into the celluloid and sending you on a trip to violent destruction. With such little interest in creating anything to latch onto by way of its floating narrative construction, its obfuscation can be an understandable barrier, but to get on its wavelength is to put yourself in the memory of its razor sharp atmosphere. Despite finding a resounding vision of a very different found footage landscape, it gets lost in an arduous, overlong setup that becomes ultimately unnecessary when it abandons it all for its swan dive into blood-drenched chaos. Flawed but joyously so in its ambition, a film so confident in its imagery that it consistently refuses to relent, doubling down over and over just when you think the suffering is headed towards some hint of catharsis, but it cannot be found in this place. We are all careening towards our demise, and some of us find it faster.


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