Follows a pair of siblings who love but distrust each other as they embark on a white-water rafting trip with a small group. One of their friends from childhood turns out to be more dangerous than he appears.

Chuck says:

Though its title is similar to the 1994 Meryl Streep feature, and it does focus on a perilous journey on a river with a psychopath calling the shots, Ben Ketai’s River Wild manages to be distinctive in delving into the psyches of its central characters in an effort to give us a more emotionally based thriller.  For the most part it succeeds though it stumbles badly during its third act when a degree of laziness takes hold Ketai and Mike Nguyen Le’s writing, incidents taking place that stretch the bounds of credibility.

At a crossroads, Joey (Leighton Meester) decides to get away and take a trip with her brother Gray (Taran Killam), who happens to own a white-water rafting tour company. She tags along on a small expedition with him and two first timers, Karissa (Olivia Swann) and Van (Eve Connolly), but perpetual third wheel Trevor (Adam Brody) also joins the expedition. A childhood friend of Gray’s, the ex-con is a loose cannon, his erratic, impulsive behavior often leading to trouble.

Sure enough, an accident occurs in which Van fractures her skull and its implied she was trying to escape Trevor who was attempting to sexually assault her.  This triggers Joey and we learn that she was also a victim of his, some 15 years ago, and the trauma from these repeated events is something she’s not been able to grapple with. Things get complicated as they try to get Van down river for help and before you know it, Trevor has killed a park ranger and has taken his cohorts hostage, insisting they help him flee to Canada in order to escape justice.

Ketai does a fine job capturing the violence of the river they must navigate, putting the viewer in the fragile inflatable with the characters, tossing and turning us around with them to great effect. He also has some solid performances at his disposal, each in his intimate cast rising to the occasion as the pressure in the narrative mouths. Their reactions fuel the tension and as things progress, the film becomes a character study, Meester given the spotlight as a damaged woman who must find the courage to face her demons.

This examination of trauma and its effects provides the movie with a solid emotional foundation. Unfortunately, there are a couple moments in the last half hour that defy all logic, Joey forced to go against character and commit two incredibly stupid acts in service of sustaining the plot. These acts are so out of keeping with all we’ve seen of her previously, that I almost threw in the towel.  However, the final scene is on point and the emotional pull of the story is enough to make me forgive River its faults, but by a very narrow margin.

3 Stars

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