LONDON FILM FESTIVAL: Before Hollywood gets a chance to remake Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt word-for-word, independent American cinema can enjoy Matt Sobel’s deep south take on how false accusations tear people apart, and ultimately reveal psychosexual secrets. Trading a teacher for gay teenager Ryder, played by The Stanford Prison Experiment’s Logan Miller, and a student for a younger female cousin Molly, played by Louie’s Ursula Parker. It focuses its story across a pair of days instead of several months. Take Me To The River has an interesting angle as Californian Ryder has been suppressed by his parents to keep his secret in the closet for his conservative Nebraskan family – an otherwise easy answer to explain how he would not have abused Molly, but one with its own dangers as they ostensibly would not accept him.
Perhaps Sobel winds his film too tightly as this dilemma unravels before 15 minutes are up and we’ve had a chance to get under its skin. He demonstrates strong direction and I would’ve welcomed more patience. Such efficient economy in storytelling leads it to feeling quite contrived and stilted to reach the necessary dramatic assumptions. Although Robin Weigert’s performance as Ryder’s mother Cindy thrives under the weight of the situation, the bigoted uncle Keith, played by Josh Hamilton, the primary source of aggression here, suffers the most to meet Weigert’s calibre. Nevertheless, it’s still a compelling sequence to behold, and the film conjures that same boiling frustration of a false accusation that The Hunt achieved through much of its narrative that makes you want to wrestle the ignorant people.
It’s a shame that the film struggles to establish a single confident tone but could’ve easily be improved by dipping onto one side. It unfortunately doesn’t equate to complex contradictions, but instead indecision. Deeply unsettling or somewhat farcical, richly composed or raw and naturalistic – it drifts somewhere between those tones and results in a film much more lightweight than it could have been, and much less organic than it could have felt. This is especially to its detriment with a shorthand that could have come with more maturity. The supposed flamboyance of Ryder creeps through via his bright red shorts, but outside of the film’s hints that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s gay unless they had prior suspicions, of which don’t appear to be shown. Missed opportunities aside, it’s a tense film that bubbles with dread right up to its disturbing revelation. It’s got very interesting tools to diffuse and raise its tensions.
Deadwood‘s Robin Weigert shines as the frequent voice of reason, filled with nuance and anxiety as she tries to protect her son in both productive and unproductive ways. The West Wing‘s Richard Schiff, playing Ryder’s Dad, doesn’t get enough to do and essentially shrugs his way through his performance, but amicably. Miller doesn’t quite have the convictions to stand out among his supporting cast and also appears on the fence about the realism and hyperrealism as Sobel does, but he sees his way through the film. It’s Ursula Parker who continues to boast her talents she’s shown on Louis C.K.’s show, giving an utterly effortless performance. She has a bright, bright future. While not as fully formed as it could be, Take Me To The River is a solid and promising debut that will certainly connect with a passionate niche.