The Film Movement September13, 2016 DVD release of the American indie film "Take Me to the River" awesomely proves your not-so-humble reviewer wrong regarding regular comments in reviews of (mostly foreign) Movement releases that other nations put American movies to shame. "River" being a Sundance Film Festival selection also shows that that event has not ENTIRELY gone from being a venue for exceptional independent films such as this perfect product of first-time filmmaker Matt Sobel to a showcase for upcoming blockbusters.
The following YouTube clip of the spoiler-heavy trailer for"River" provides a good sense of the style of the film.
Logan Miller, who awesomely voices Nova (a.k.a. "Buckethead") in the animated "Ultimate Spider-Man" television series, delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as 17 year-old everyteen Ryder. Miller immediately grabs us in this "Welcome to the Dollhouse" style film in his opening scene in which this tall lanky and pale (seemingly suburban) California boy is strapped into the middle "bitch" seat in the back of the family sedan on the way to a dreaded family reunion in Nebraska.
US city folk fully know the score when the first line of Logan is asking his mother Cindy, nicely played by indie-centric Robin Weigert, if the kin folk in corn country "know" about him and she replies that they do not. As Cindy explains, there is no reason to make these rural relatives uncomfortable merely to make Ryder feel less ill at ease.
Logan immediately raises eyebrows on soon appearing in mid-thigh bright-red cotton shirts, new-wave style shades, and a fairly deep v-neck t-shirt among his denim and traditional t-shirts wearing clan. This leads to a tense scene in which his boy cousins surround him and comment on the shorts.
Logan also becomes the center of attention among the younger girls who are the daughters of Cindy's brother Keith. Josh Hamilton, who is best known to part of the target "River" audience as gay son Serge in "Absolutely Fabulous," does a good job playing the not-so-sophisticated sibling who listened to his old man and stayed on the farm.
The incident around which "River" revolves occurs off-screen while a good-natured Ryder is obliging Keith's nine-year-old daughter Molly, who is particularly enamored with her "California cousin." The large group witnesses a hysterical Molly running from a barn and soon finds evidence of an injury that MAY be the result of a sexual assault.
Things remain civilized, but a highly upset Ryder soon finds himself not-so-far from the maddening crowd. Both sides of the conflict not being very receptive to the efforts of Cindy horribly puts her in the middle.
The tension continues throughout the entire film. Much of this relates to Hamilton doing an excellent job concealing the actual mindset of Keith and to Ryder remaining strong (pun intended) regarding his convictions to the truth and to his self.
As in all good films, the title of "River" has two meanings. The surface one (pun intended) refers to an increasingly manipulative Molly convincing Ryder to first accompany her to the titular body of water and increasingly showing him that resistance is futile. These scenes also include a moment that is one of the all-time creepy moments in film history.
The deeper (pun intended) meaning relates to the history of Cindy and her baggage-laden brother. The lesson regarding this is not so much that you cannot go home again but that there really is no reason to do so.
The "cheat sheet" liner note in the DVD set provides further universal insight. The general message here is that no absolutes exist.
On a larger level, "River" has every element of an exceptional film. It has well-cast actors tell an interesting story and is neither a vehicle for a star nor a showcase for kazillion dollar special effects.
The DVD extras are separate interviews with Weigert and Miller, who share their stories of learning of this exceptional script and Sobel realizing that they are the right people to bring it to life.
Anyone with questions or comments regarding "River" is strongly encouraged to email me. You can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.