BFI #LFF 2015: TAKE ME TO THE RIVER Film Review

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Dark, ambitious and utterly compelling, Matt Sobel makes an impressive feature debut with TAKE ME TO THE RIVER

Matt Sobel makes an impressive feature debut with TAKE ME TO THE RIVER, a haunting and menacing drama about a family reunion gone wrong.

En route to a family celebration in Nebraska, LA teen Ryder (Logan Miller) is asked by his mother (Robin Weigert) to keep his homosexuality secret from their conservative family. During a cook-out Ryder takes his nine year-old cousin Molly (Ursula Parker) to a nearby barn to look for birds’ nests in the rafters but the rural idyll is shattered when Molly emerges from the barn screaming, her skirt stained with blood and Ryder suddenly becomes an unwitting suspect of abuse.

Dark, ambitious and utterly compelling, TAKE ME TO THE RIVER is one of the strangest and most unexpectedly menacing family dramas of recent years. The ambitious psychosexual family drama turns the genre on its head with writer/director Matt Sobel crafting an uneasy atmosphere of half dream, half nightmare, leaving the viewer as bewildered as young Ryder.

What makes TAKE ME TO THE RIVER so special is its in-depth characters and complex backstories.  Sobel masterfully leaves the important details up to the viewer’s imagination, allowing us to come to up with our own conclusions. The way in which he deals with the thematically challenging story is also utterly compelling. The manner in which Molly’s sexual coming-of-age is explored is startling and it’s clear that there is more than meets the eye, though the audience never becomes privy to the details. The material is just suggestive enough to bring about an intense unease, capturing a dread so palpable it can often be uncomfortable to watch.

Thomas Scott Stanton’s stunning cinematography is worth a mention, with beautiful shots of rural tranquility, cornfields in the breeze, rustic red barns and sunflowers on a grassy hilltop, creating a sharp contrast to the menacing events happening in reality. My only criticism relates to the undercharged sense of danger which leaves audiences wondering why Cindy, like most mothers, wouldn’t just haul her son out of the threatening situation as soon as it reared its ugly head.

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The film boasts exceptional cast performances from Logan Miller, Robin Weigert, Richard Schiff and Josh Hamilton. Logan Miller plays Ryder, the good-natured gay teen who stumbles down a Nebraskan rabbit-hole of confusion and disorientation. His complex facial expressions speak volumes, with the young actor superbly navigating through the tense family dynamics. The complicated bond with Robin Weigert as his mother Cindy is also one of the most compelling central elements of the story.

Other standout cast performances include Josh Hamilton as Molly’s father Keith whose intimating performance is terrifyingly brilliant. Ursula Parker is also utterly compelling as the preternaturally adult Molly.

Ambiguous, finely crafted and visually stunning, Matt Sobel certainly impresses with his feature debut TAKE ME TO THE RIVER. A surprising tale of psychosexual mind games and repressed emotions that is well worth a watch.

4 Stars (4 / 5)

TAKE ME TO THE RIVER is on at the 59th BFI London Film Festival on 10 October.

About Donna

Donna is the Editor of Frankly, My Dear UK. By day, she is a digital marketing whizz, by night she reviews film, theatre and music for a wide range of publications including WhatsonStage, The Public Reviews and ScreenRelish. Loves Shakespeare, prosecco and Formula 1