Tuesday, August 1, 2023

River Wild: Movie Review

A thriller with the right amount of action, suspense and atmosphere.
Joey (Leighton Meester) goes with her brother, Gray (Taran Killam), on a whitewater rafting and camping trip. Joining them are new friends, Van (Eve Connelly) and Karissa (Olivia Swann), and an old childhood friend Trevor (Adam Brody). Gray is the experienced rafter the others are up for the adventure. It’s just the five of them versus the elements but turns out it’s not going to be that simple.   2023

Directed by: Ben Ketai

Screenplay by: Ben Ketai, Mike Nguyen Le

Starring: Leighton Meester, Taran Killam,  and Adam Brody

River Wild shares a name with the 90s Meryl Streep and Kevin Bacon thriller, but this is not a remake. It takes the basic premise of the original and the same type of setting but mixes it up with different characters and situations. This is a new story, just with a similar framing, so there’s no need to have seen or not have seen or remember or forget if you have seen the 1994 The River Wild.

A lot of plot descriptions want to give away more than I think they should. A villain emerges within the first third of the movie, and if you don’t know who it is going into the movie, it’s a good twist. The characters drop enough hints that it doesn’t come out of nowhere, but it’s a good reveal if you don’t know it’s coming. So I’ll be staying away from spoilers but I know other sites aren’t doing the same.

It’s a bold move turning a main character into a villain so early, but it does help engage the movie with the audience. The second third of the movie slows down a bit, but this where the atmosphere gets built up. There is a Deliverance reference in the opening scene, and then without a direct reference is able to establish the same off-kilter creepiness.

The characters get further established during the middle frame after an initial thriller sequence and when things slow down before a more significant thriller/action sequence. Joey and Trevor have a very contentious relationship at the beginning and Joey’s relationship with Gray is also a distrustful one, the reasons why eventually get revealed. More could have been done with the characters and their backstory to give the film more power and a stronger feeling of importance, but it gives us just enough to stay invested in the story.

River Wild is perfectly constructed for the genre – there’s the right amount of action, the right amount of atmosphere-building, and the right amount of suspense all in the perfect setting. There’s some really nice cinematography, and I like the use of nature as neither a villain in the story nor a saviour - it’s not man vs nature, it’s man vs man in nature, and man will have to come to the rescue.

The final action sequences get big for the scope of the movie and a little unrealistic; it is nicely photographed but at the same time it comes across as cheesy. The movie leading up to it deserves a more interesting ending but it is fair and not unsatisfying.

If you like thrillers set in water and the woods, then this is for you. I’m a sucker for this type of setting and the movie lived up to expectations, it just doesn’t exceed them.