Notable Cast: Rossif Sutherland, Douangmany Soliphanh, Sara Botsford, Ted Atherton, Vithaya Pansringarm
Thrillers, in this day and age, are rarely as pure as they used to be. They usually fringe on elements of action, horror, fantasy, or whatever genre they need to give the film a fresh feeling to stand out from the rest. This is because thrillers are one of the older and most utilized styles in cinema. It’s not that blending the thriller elements into another genre degrades a film, but that’s just how the genre has evolved over the last handful of decades. This is also what makes River feel so different from its thriller cohorts. It’s a film that certainly uses modern techniques in its approach to tap into the tension and energy of its concept, but it’s a film that remains largely pure in its focus. It’s not some big conspiracy film. It doesn’t throw in explosions and gun fights. It’s not based on supernatural lore. It’s a man on the run from a bad situation. Simple. It’s this simplicity that can both its highlight and its problems as a film.
Things are rough for John (Sutherland) as a doctor in Laos. He’s understaffed with no money and overworked. When he takes a small vacation to one of the local islands, things get worse. After a night of drinking, he stops a sexual assault. The events are blurry though and when he’s questioned for the death of another visitor to the island he panics. Now he’s on the run and unsure of where to go.
|Excuse me, does my beard look manly?|
The problem then, as with a good portion of thrillers, is that River can also be frustrating in its simplicity. As a character, John tends to make a lot of very silly and frustrating choices with little in the way of exposition or explanation why. This can, at times, make him seem more like an anti-hero in how flawed he is as a character and the film doesn’t quite have the gritty or darker elements to really sell that. It does allow the final ten minutes of the film to make a strong emotional statement, but that statement could have been even more impactful with some stronger character building in the narrative. The simplicity of the film also undermines some of the more interesting things that could have been said about the situation of a Caucasian doctor being on the run in a foreign country. He’s there to help as a doctor, but events take a turn for the worse. There is a minefield of various social, cultural, and political commentaries that are slightly touched on, but none of it is really explored in a more meaningful way. The story and narrative in River is so simple that it can actually be a detriment to the whole.
|"I loved you in Only God Forgives."|