The found footage horror subgenre’s biggest claim to fame has always been its pretense of authenticity – movies like Project Blair Witch or original Paranormal activity they were designed to be such convincing facsimiles of real life that they were intended to be indistinguishable from the final work of some doomed amateur documentary maker. But with the development of the subgenre, the production of great films such as (REC.) and so awful Chernobyl Diaries, the idea of these films capturing “real life” became a pretext for making low-budget, low-fi movies. That’s what it does Backwatersa new horror film written, directed and starring Robbie Banfitch, very interesting: it uses the traps of found footage enough for Banfitch to cleverly break the rules when things get really scary.
Backwaters follows a group of four thirty-year-olds who venture into the desert in hopes of shooting the perfect music video. The film starts out quite recognizably: Robbie (Banfitch), a documentary filmmaker, holds a camera, capturing moments of the group’s life together and the first few days in the desert with extreme close-ups. This gives the film an unusual sense of creeping loneliness at the beginning as they are surrounded by the open Mojave.
But even in those initial moments, the camera doesn’t just let you know what’s going on, as is usually the case with found videos. Instead, he also shows us Robbie’s thoughts and longings, allowing us to sit with him as he films Michelle (Michelle May), the singer of his group, much longer than he should. These moments seem consistent with Backwaters‘, but they are in direct opposition to the usual tropes of found footage. These beats would look weird in the real world and would certainly be noticed by Robbie’s friends, let alone his real girlfriend. Instead, they are the first real clue Backwaters it pushes the boundaries of the footage it finds instead of playing by its rules.
Further breaking with conventions, Backwaters it doesn’t speed up the action like most horror finds. Instead of subtly pulling out increasingly terrifying moments before letting things really open, Banfitch focuses hard on a normal friends camping trip for a grueling (and far too long) 45 minutes. When the heroes finally get into trouble, all hell breaks loose.
This is where the real trick of the film begins. Characters die, characters get hurt, strange men with axes appear and fit into the horizon, and most importantly, Robbie loses it completely. The further away he gets from reality, the more his footage turns into something that seems to be taken directly from his slowly warping brain, rather than from any camera.
Getting these shots almost from Robbie’s point of view is a fantastically disorienting experience. Banfitch is still aware of the camera and makes frequent use of its limitations, which makes subjective changes even harder to see and more disturbing. Something seems to have reached over Robbie’s shoulder to hold a camera for him so we can understand what new, blatantly bloody task his vanishing mind has given him.
when it works Backwaters the audience seems to have been invited to witness the horror run through Mike’s head towards the end Project Blair Witch as he stares at a corner in the basement. Robbie gets to witness the horrors of a jagged reality, but also things more cosmic and less earthly, and thanks to the combination of footage and its breakdown, we get to see both first hand. at its best, Backwaters it puts us so deep in Robbie’s brain that we can’t get the distance we crave to make sense of what we’re shown. But he has his biggest problems when he returns to reality for more concrete scares.
Among the problems with this method of ethereal found materials – which at times borders on being just a first-person experiential film – is that it’s rarely easy to train the camera for everything that happens to the characters. Too often, Banfitch blacks out Backwatersgreatest moments, undercutting their terrifying potential. The scenes in the back half of the movie are usually lit with a flashlight or not at all, which makes the action frustratingly hard to see and obscures what could have been more terrifying additions to the movie. The near-blindness is a bit unsettling, but it’s more confusing than anything else, leaving some sections with no sense of direction or fear.
Maybe BackwatersThe most definitely found footage-inspired problem concerns the framing device: a series of three memory cards that we presume were found somewhere in the desert, the final evidence of the character’s disappearance. It’s a classic of the subgenre: “It could all be real!” pretending that some videos of found footage gave the film some realistic weight. But Backwaters I don’t need that grip. His footage is effective enough on its own, especially when witnessing things that seem impossible for a camera to capture, putting a strain on memory card framing beyond belief. The actual draft is perfect, but the artificial draft is not tracked.
Backwaters not as great a subgenre subgenre of found footage as something like Joel Anderson’s 2008 horror mockumentary Mungo Lake, where inherent falsehood is built into not only the plot but also its ending. IN Mungo Lakethe idea that the images on screen are fake is fundamental, undermining the accuracy of the story, the subjectivity of who is telling it, and whether it should be believed at all, even in a fictional film. Mungo Lake uses the questions behind the found footage as a proxy for the different ways we process grief, and the ways the dead stay with some of us in photos and memories (and perhaps in other places) long after they are gone.
One sec Backwaters it never fully reaches these lofty heights, similarly demanding more from its audience than the average found film. It’s only been within genre long enough to break traditions, and by the time all hell breaks loose, it’s so far beyond sub-genre boundaries that it becomes something else entirely. A mix of point of view shots, traditional footage, and the feeling of some eerie outside observer, detached from time or reality, creates an effect that takes us deeper into Robbie’s unraveling mind than a more conventional horror film could.
Backwaters is already in selected cinemas. It can be streamed scream box or rented on VOD from websites like Amazon or YouTube.