River Wild

River Wild is a reimagining of Curtis Hanson’s almost identically named 1994 drama The River Wild, starring Meryl Streep and Kevin Bacon. The film - which comes to digital, Blu-ray, and DVD on August 1 – has a similar premise with all-new characters. I haven’t seen the original since it came out almost thirty years ago, although I recall having mixed feelings about it. This new one engenders no such ambivalence. It’s an effective little thriller.

Joey (Leighton Meester) meets up with brother/professional tour guide Gray (Taran Killam) for a whitewater rafting trip. Accompanying them are two tourists, as well as Trevor (Adam Brody), a longtime friend Joey visibly does not feel much warmth toward. His status as an ex-con has something to do with that. The excursion starts off fine, until one of the female tourists falls, hits her head on a rock, and sustains a skull fracture. She claims to Joey that this occurred after Trevor attempted to sexually assault her. They need to get her medical attention promptly. Trevor, realizing he’s likely to get into more legal trouble, makes every effort to prevent that from happening, taking a series of increasingly extreme measures to sabotage the trip and endanger the entire party.

Any good movie about whitewater rapids needs to have a couple heart-stopping scenes where the characters get jostled around, fall out of their rafts, and/or venture toward perilous waterfalls. River Wild has all those elements. Director Ben Ketai skillfully makes the setting look dangerous. Adding to the impact is that you can see the actors doing a percentage of their own rafting. Stuntpeople were surely used for the most dangerous activity, but seeing Meester, Brody, and Killam going down rapids for real gives the movie an edge.

That’s matched by several clever twists and turns in the plot. Joey and Gray are continually looking for ways to overpower Trevor after he comes into possession of a gun. Their actions generate suspense, as does the unpredictable desperation of Trevor. He really does not want to go back to jail and will do anything to avoid that fate. Learning that the Trevor/Gray dynamic is more complex than it initially appears is another intriguing wrinkle.

The three main actors do very good work here. Meester makes Joey a smart, determined heroine, and former SNL star Killam demonstrates that he’s as well-suited to dramatic roles as he is to comedic ones. On his end, Brody is stunningly eerie as the villain, avoiding easy cliches to give us a man whose panic clouds his judgement. He’s not an obvious choice to play a bad guy, yet it totally works.

River Wild doesn’t break new ground, nor does it have a ton of depth. It simply strives to be a tense, entertaining, well-made, 90-minute thrill ride. On that count, it definitely succeeds.

There are no bonus features on the Blu-ray, but picture and sound quality are excellent. Click here to purchase a copy of River Wild from Amazon.

out of four

River Wild is rated PG-13 for violence, some bloody images, strong language, and brief suggestive material. The running time is 1 hour and 31 minutes.