Film Festival Movie Review

Film Review: TAKE ME TO THE RIVER: The Family Reunion From Hell [SFF 2015]

Logan Miller Ursula Parker Take Me To The River

Take Me To The River (2015) Film Review from the 37th Annual Sundance Film Festival, a movie directed by Matt Sobel, starring Logan MillerRobin WeigertJosh HamiltonRichard SchiffUrsula Parker, and Azura Skye.

In the world created by director and screenwriter, Matt Sobel, what’s most important is what’s left unsaid, what’s between the lines – and there are looming, unseen consequences.

The film follows a California family’s sojourn to Nebraska for a maternal family reunion. Decidedly more open-minded and liberal than its Nebraskan counterparts, parents Cindy (Robin Weigert) and Don (Richard Schiff) agree on the road to refrain from discussing anything that may upset their less-evolved relatives – especially their teenage son Ryder’s (Logan Miller) sexual orientation.

Compliant but rebellious, Ryder struts around the reunion wearing short, attention-drawing, fire engine-red shorts. Creative and artistic, he draws in his younger cousins by skillfully sketching pictures for them. Molly (Ursula Parker), in particular, is drawn to him and asks for him to accompany her to the nearby barn to view bird’s nest. When she shrieks in terror and books it out of the barn with a blood stain on her white day-dress as the entire extended family watches on, things quickly become complicated for Ryder and his parents, forcing them to confront the parts of themselves they have deliberately kept hidden from each other.

There is an ethereal, otherworldly sense to this film, a clever fish-out-of-water disorientation that lingers and infuses every frame of the picture. Nobody is quite sure what the rules are or how to make sense of them. Molly’s father, Keith (Josh Hamilton), simply cannot fathom the possibility that his pubescent-age daughter has started menstruating, for example, and seems to blame it on a contamination, of sorts, brought on by the arrival of his liberal, Californian relatives, who come to feel as if they’ve fallen down the rabbit hole.

Even more startling is the manner in which Molly’s sexual coming-of-age is explored; it’s clear that there is more than meets the eye, though the audience never becomes privy to the details of horror that are clearly simmering beneath the surface. It’s a stylistic approach that succeeds on some level but also feels abbreviated; neither justice nor concrete answers are ever served – perhaps because they don’t exist down the backwoods rabbit hole that is Nebraska.

There is a sense that the audience is only receiving a limited amount of information, that it is viewing very little of the actual interaction between the characters. The audience is always one step behind the characters and seems to be playing catch-up the entire duration of the film only to be let down just when it starts to come together. For example, the history of Cindy and Keith’s sibling relationship is also hinted at but never explored, and a terrifying truth is revealed just minutes before the credits roll – a head-scratching error. It’s a confusing revelation that’s only conceivable purpose is to shock; it only muddies the waters even further, and the intentional ambiguity it serves is also highly-upsetting and could be seen as victim-shaming.

Despite capable actors and an especially terrifying performance by Hamilton, the film reveals and explores too little to sustain a lasting impression. One wishes the film had been longer in duration and that the director/screenwriter hadn’t been afraid to engage with the terrifying consequences of his unsettling implications.

Take Me to the River is screening at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival in the non-competitive NEXT category and has yet to be acquired for distribution. 

Rating: 5/10

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Image Source: Sundance Institute

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About the author

Drew Stelter

Drew is a 26-year-old film buff. A native Utahan, he attends the Sundance Film Festival annually. He is a member of the Salt Lake Film Society. In a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, he attended the Oscars Red Carpet on March 2, 2014, after winning an essay contest through the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. At any given time he can be expected to be conversing via movie quote GIFs.

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