It is every traveler’s fear that they will end up in a faraway foreign land having broken a law they didn’t understand with the police after them ready to sentence them to a much harsher fate then they could ever imagine.
In River written and directed by first time feature maker Jamie M. Dagg this is the situation that American doctor John Lake (Rossif Sutherland) finds himself in however his crime is most definitely not one that should go unpunished having drunkenly beaten a man to death in the dead of night.
What makes the movie so interesting is the contexts and background to this terrible act which forces John to go on the run across Laos in a desperate attempt to evade the authorities and save his life after taking another’s.
Working as a volunteer at a hospital in the middle of nowhere his insubordinate and sanctimonious attitude when attempting to save lives prompts his boss to send him on forced holiday away from his doctorial duties. Heading for a break on a tiny island he is still unable to switch off his instincts to rescue others and at a bar when he sees a pair of Australians plying local girls with alcohol he intervenes telling them to stop.
Later that same night John comes across the drunken girl lying unconscious in a heap after having been sexually abused by one of the callous Aussie tourists who still stands over her. A fight ensues between the pair resulting in John’s heinous crime and the next day when it is revealed the rapist is a Senators son John realises he must flee or face the full force of the law.
With a complex moral set-up the film puts the viewer in an ethical quandary forcing them to face what they would do in a similar situation. John is far from innocent and his arrogance and righteous rage are the reasons he is in such terrible trouble however the fact that his victim was also a vile and villainous aggressor causes extremely interesting inner conflict for the main character and the audience observing the action.
It is also refreshing to see a film set in South East Asia where the police are not evil, corrupt or incompetent as in so many other movies in a variety of genre’s and this adds to the realism and tension as John is never more than a few feet away from capture at all times.
River is shot to be as realistic as possible feeling like it is moving forward in real time heightening the sense of anxiety and peril except interestingly for the night of the murder which jumps about emphasising John’s muddled recollection of the disturbing events.
With the camera alongside our anti-hero at nearly every step we watch as he frantically tries to escape imprisonment moving from the picture perfect remote island location of his crime through beautiful rural landscapes and dirty bustling built up cities with no real plan other than to stay free at all costs forcing him into more criminal acts as he progresses.
A fascinating and fantastically tense morality tale of a fugitive running away from his unintended crime and personal pain River flows along at full force dragging its main character and the viewer along with it from quiet calm start to frantic tumultuous finish.