Writer/director Robbie Banfitch tests the limits of found footage horror in The Outwaters


Courtesy Cinedigm

For any tried and true film fanatic, the holy grail of events is attending a film festival. Finding that chance to see a world premiere film that either changes the landscape or leaves you frothing at the mouth to discuss with anyone. 

As great as that prospect is, it also comes with a downside: the waiting. While bigger films that make a showing at festivals—Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves has the opening night slot at SXSW 2023—get quick releases, the turnaround on indie movies is more uncertain. In some cases, it can take years for a movie to see the light of day in a cinema or streaming.

In that way, 2023 has proven to be a boon already for horror hounds, with two festival favorites getting theatrical releases. The most recent of which, The Outwaters, opens in Kansas City this weekend. To call the film polarizing is something of an understatement. One glance at the two reviews here at The Pitch can tell you as much.

So when the opportunity came to chat with writer/director/star Robbie Banfitch, we knew we had to seize the opportunity to ask him many questions about his terrifying found footage film.

The Pitch: It’s crazy to think that it’s been about nine months since I saw this at Panic Fest 2022. Not only that, 2022 was a banner year when it came to horror, but even more so, there was an influx of good found footage horror movies. You had stuff like We’re All Going To The World’s Fair, Deadstream, Masking Threshold, The Andy Baker Tape, and of course, your film, The Outwaters. What does it mean for you to be amongst these films that are getting attention in that genre?

Robbie Banfitch: I don’t know. I’m just excited to be in horror. To “officially” be part of horror.

Was horror always the genre that growing up you thought “This is where I want to make my stamp”?

Yeah, a goal of mine has been to make a “classic” horror movie. That’s the goal. Not just to make a good movie, but to make one that can be a classic, whether it’s a drama or a horror. I just want to make something lasting that people come back to and enjoy over and over.


Courtesy Cinedigm

Is it a Rod Serling-type thing? “As long as they talk about you” or your work, that’s what’s important? Because with a film like The Outwaters, as much as I enjoy it, given the Found Footage aspect, can be rather divisive. It can go either way. But if people see a movie that they don’t love or like, but are compelled to talk to people about, is movie is a sign of a special film.

I mean, honestly, I’m hoping that people love it because I made it. I feel bad if people are excited about a movie and like waiting months to see it and then don’t like it, that makes me feel guilty and bad. Not that I can control it. I think most people like it based on all the reviews I’m seeing, whether it’s reviews or comments on Letterboxd and I think most people do like it. I didn’t realize how divisive it would be in terms of like, love or hate. Obviously, there’s stuff in between too. But I was trying to make something that horror or even art-house folks could like. You don’t have to be a horror fan, I think, to appreciate this one, hopefully.

We’re in only February, but the two horror movies that people are talking about right now are your film and Skinamarink.

Love it! 

And we have people who are saying, “hey, wasn’t there that dancing girl robot movie coming out?”, but that’s already gone. You had a Blumhouse film release, but your film and this other one are the ones people are talking about.

But I’m talking about Megan.

That’s fine. There’s no problem with that at all!

Actually, I’ll always be talking about Megan.

Horror over the years has often been pushed to the side and thought it was specifically just one thing. Yet you see people accepting horror differently recently and noticing how multifaceted the genre can be. Is that something that you embrace in horror yourself?

I don’t know. I don’t actually see horror being more accepted by the Academy, for example. They’re not going to nominate Mia Goth or Toni Collette, I think that that’s never going to I mean, once in a while, like Sissy Spacek and in Carrie, but not overall. I feel like I got off track [laughs]. Ask me again.

When it comes to horror, do you think that how vast the genre is, is something that’s been overlooked for too long?

Not by horror fans in general? No, I mean, honestly, I think if a movie is good, whether or not it’s horror, people do discover it. I think that if a horror movie is good enough, even if it’s buried amidst a bunch of other stuff, at first, it’ll find its way out of the haystack.

Now, when it comes specifically to found footage, people are saying there’s a reemergence, but the genre has been there every year. If you go on to Tubi or Freevee, you can find 500 found footage movies that are made in the last year. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re quality efforts. So when you went into this film, was there a certain template or mindset that you had or tropes that you wanted to stray away from?

Oh, totally. I hate when characters fight incessantly. Or, especially in found Footage Films when characters are talking about just exposition bullshit that they never would be talking about on camera in real life. I also hate when the cameras roll, and it wouldn’t be rolling.


Courtesy Cinedigm

The most unfortunate thing for anybody who’s reading is you can’t talk a lot about what happens in the film as you’re  going to spoil surprises, but one of the things that do come up when any found footage horror movie is “Why?” Why is this person still filming? Why does this person have the camera? The thing that caught me is that it’s an extension of your character, Robbie. Both due to the situation that he finds himself in later in the film, that it’s kind of both a semblance of sanity and to try to look at things through the viewpoint of what is real. Is that is that the right trajectory that you’re going for?

Yeah, there are a few things. I never would have made a found footage movie if I didn’t, from the very beginning, have a very clear, logical idea for why the camera would still be going. That was not contrived. And I can say here, I don’t feel like it’s spoilers, but my character is clearly disoriented. I’m in the desert and a little out of it. So there’s a security blanket aspect to it. I think it’s really clear to most people why the camera is still going, and I think it’s justified. Some people totally miss that, but I feel they probably were not paying attention because it’s pretty obvious why the camera is still going.

Now, you also mentioned that you went into this with a very clear mindset. I would never ask you to tell me or anyone else the significance, but do you have answers for the unexplained things that happened in the movie, or was it a generally ambiguous sense that you were going for?

No, no. This whole movie was built around a specific idea and thing and how that very specific thing relates to the overall experience. How lame would it be if I said, let me tell you what my movie means? Obviously, I’m not comparing myself to Picasso or something, but imagine I just stand up on screen and say “This is what my painting means.” Shut up.

I know there are plenty of times that ambiguity for the sake of ambiguity can get on people’s nerves if either you don’t answer it or as a filmmaker you say there is no answer. As a filmmaker, one would assume having a finite answer is important, as It creates a completely different trajectory when you’re making the film.

If it just was like, [*sarcastically] “Oh, let’s just leave it ambiguous and whatever for the sake of ambiguity” it would be like a pile of shit. Making it with a very clear idea -I did leave it intentionally confusing and left it open to interpretation- but it was all designed around a very specific thing that happens and every moment and scene has a purpose tied to that through line.

Now, as disorienting as you mentioned that Robbie is, you also have a very unique sound experience. The overall design and mixing and editing are something unique and unnerving. I’ve seen the movie three times now, once in the theater and twice at home, both times with headphones. And I thought that I was going crazy because it literally feels like you have earworms in your brain and whispers from an alternate dimension that you can’t escape from. How long did it take you to come up with that? What were some of the things that you were going for?

I mean, part of the benefit of not doing it with an official professional sound designer is there are probably a lot of rules that people follow. “Oh, you can’t do it this way. You can’t do it that way. You have to even this out. You have to even that out.” And I was like, No, I want it to sound like this. I feel this is what it would sound like if it were actually raw on the camera. And that created really a large dynamic range of things. 

By the way, did you get to se the new final mixed version in a theater?

No, I didn’t get to see that one. I watched it a couple of nights ago at home, but I’m going this weekend to see it again with a crowd.

Okay. It should be pretty good with theater speakers. I’m excited. 

Often when people set out to make a horror or movie in general, they want people to take something away from it. What’s something you want viewers to take away from The Outwaters, besides all the metaphorical scars you’ll leave them with?

To tune in to The Real Housewives of New Jersey Season 13, I think, which started yesterday. That’s my wish. But in reality, I hope that people just have a thrilling experience with the film.

Categories: Movies