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.
★ / ★★★★
Being hit with a baseball to the head becomes a wake-up call for Abby (Robin Weigert). Though she is married to Kate (Julie Fain Lawrence) and they have two wonderful kids, their home life has gotten a little stale. They barely even have sex anymore.
Abby and Justin (Johnathan Tchaikovsky) are in the process of renovating an apartment in the city. She confesses to him that she has recently hooked up with a prostitute. Her excitement far outweighs her guilt. Incidentally, Justin knows a person who runs a business involving women clients looking for other women to have sex with. Justin suggests Abby might be a perfect candidate to meet these clients—if she is interested.
Based on the screenplay and directed by Stacie Passon, “Concussion” might have been a better movie if it wasn’t so repetitive. The ingredients to make a magnetic domestic drama are present: a couple who live in the same place but are often cold and distant, a lack of meaning in the conversations when they do talk to—or through—one another, and, perhaps most importantly, the fact that the screenplay does not make a big deal that the central couple are lesbians. Because the material brims with potential, one cannot help but expect a little more.
It gives us a lot less. Although Weigert does a good job playing a woman who craves a little bit of danger and excitement, the arc that her character goes through is not a very steep parabola. In fact, it is quite flat. Couple that with a torturous middle section where nothing important happens other than a revolving door of women wanting to have an emotional connection or casual sex, the material stagnates.
Abby’s interactions with the persons who pay her are not especially engaging. Perhaps the only one worthy of our time is the first client (Daria Feneis), a twenty-three-year-old overweight woman who has not had any sort of sexual experience—not even a first kiss. Out of all the clients, she stands out because she is most like Abby: she wishes to know or discover the other side and when she finally does, it empowers her. Though they come from completely different worlds, their commonality establishes a tenuous bond.
I found it strange that Kate appears to be upset all the time. As a result, the marriage becomes one dimensional to us and that is a problem. Perhaps the point is for us to feel what Abby feels at times but in order for us to understand and appreciate the complexity of their relationship, both people must have their turn for us to relate with. The screenplay keeps Kate at a distance for so long that when she finally reacts, it is more a muffle than an explosion. The emotions that we should be feeling are not successfully invoked.
Though “Concussion” looks more realistic than many commercial domestic dramas, it does not necessarily mean it is any better. Like its more standard counterparts, it lacks a vital force that encourages us to look closer within the characters and their circumstances.