Take Me to the River (2015)
★★★★ / ★★★★
At least once we have all been in a situation where we realize suddenly that we are in the middle of something that can go very wrong at any second. Feelings of anxiety and dread soon follow. They attempt to overwhelm the body, but the mind insists to run as far away—and as quickly—as possible. “Take Me to the River,” written and directed by Matt Sobel, perfectly captures this quandary. Although it is a drama in its core, the film stands strong alongside the best suspense pictures of any year.
The plot is deceptively simple but effective. A family of three from California drive to Nebraska for a family reunion. Their conversation in the car point to a possible source of conflict between city and country; Ryder (Logan Miller) is gay and he wishes to make minimal effort in hiding who he is around his relatives despite his parents (Robin Weigert, Richard Schiff) imploring him to consider otherwise. The expectation of the seventeen-year-old receiving condemnation for his sexuality is a constant source of tension. This piece supports that movies containing a similar plot are not only consistently not fresh, when faced with it we have been conditioned to go on autopilot.
Here is a film that upends expectations. We believe it is about one thing but maybe it is about another, or even several things altogether. To cast a relative unknown like Miller is a great decision because many of us are not yet familiar with how the performer conveys his character’s thoughts and emotions. This is absolutely not the kind of role for someone who is exceedingly good-looking or extremely quirky. It is for someone who looks sort of ordinary but one who nonetheless commands a high level of control: convey subtlety but not so subtle that the protagonist ends up boring or one-dimensional.
Certain images are downright sinister—and without context they are peaceful, alluring. For example, as Ryder is on a horse among a field of yellow flowers dancing along the wind, we suspect violence to exacted somehow. As he sleeps in an isolated barn at night, anybody can so easily sneak up on him, beat him, kill him. Even a quiet river poses a threat. We look at the trees, shrubs, and shadowy areas nearby. Is anybody hiding there?
Sobel creates a magnetic rhythm that keeps us off-balance for the entire duration of the picture—quite a feat because many filmmakers do not even bother to take their time to establish or create meaningful, rich context for whatever it is they wish to communicate let alone to make sure there is music during unbearable silences.
The picture is clearly for viewers who like to search the screen for the minute details, to dig deep, to consider challenging implications when certain actions are undertaken, like characters looking at one another in a certain tension-filled way, or when they touch, or the manner in which certain phrases are expressed in order to inflict as much psychological damage as possible. Sometimes horror comes in the form of us simply thinking of the possibility that another person knows what they should not and suspecting that they are threatening surreptitiously to unveil it.