Movie Review: RIVER
This review was originally published during Fantastic Fest 2015. RIVER is now available on VOD.
Good intentions can backfire, and a vacation can be hell. These are lessons learned in Jamie Dagg’s feature debut River, which he wrote and directed. The film feels real enough to be a true story, which it isn’t, and that makes it even stronger.
Dr John Lake (Rossif Sutherland) is sent on a vacation by his superior after he tries extremely hard to resurrect a trauma patient during surgery. He travels to Laos where he speaks very little Thai, and on a very drunk evening encounters two douchebag Australians getting two local ladies rather intoxicated. After intervening, John stumbles upon one of the guys on his way walking home. An altercation occurs that sets off a series of unfortunate events hitch has John running from the law and attempting to leave the country before he’s pinned with a murder charge.
The film is awfully tense but somehow manages to be a nuanced thriller rather than a non-stop thrill ride. It’s very difficult to pull off being intense and sparse at the same time without feeling a disconnect or being forced to calm down. The story feels real, and while familiar tones resound there’s an unpredictable undertone that leaves you wondering where this is all going. Part morality tale and part suspense film, there’s a strong, minimalist story that gets the pace perfect. Dagg’s crafted a beautiful, grounded thriller that feels less than a first feature than most in this situation. Add in that the film was shot entirely on location in a country with no film support and it’s a miracle there’s a film to begin with, let alone a great one.
The movie rests almost entirely on Suterland’s shoulders since John is the only major character and he’s in just about every frame of the 90 minute movie. The role doesn’t call for a badass or an everyman trapped and fighting, he’s a human character that made a grave error and is clumsily trying so hard to get out of it. Sutherland embodies the character extremely well and made me feel deeply for a man in a strange land paying for a mistake and making many new ones trying to dig his way out of it. Dagg’s got a few more films in the pipeline, and he’s a director I look forward to following.
Tense, realistic thrills anchored by a great performance and guided by strong direction.
One or two eye roll moments that are quickly eclipsed.