Written and directed by Jamie M Dagg, River tells the harrowing story of John Lake, an American volunteer doctor who unwillingly murders the son of an Australian senator on an idyllic island in the south of Laos. Drunkenly stumbling upon across the young Australian sexually assaulting a Laotian woman, Lake loses his temper and quickly finds his life turned upside down as he flees from the rigid Laotian justice system.
Watching a doctor uncharacteristically murdering a young man on a beach with his bare hands may seem an unlikely scenario at first. To better engage with the film it is necessary to embrace Dagg’s premise that we are all born with the capacity for violence and that adverse factors can bring these urges to the surface at any moment. In this case, what begins as a decision made with positive intentions results in nightmarish consequences, highlighting the common fear that one wrong decision could potentially lead to a lifetime of regret.
Hand-held camerawork and frequent close-ups, accompanied by a powerful soundtrack, create a heavy tension and sense of unease from beginning to end. The southern islands of Laos, enveloped by the murky Mekong River, make the perfect ominous setting and Rossif Sutherland in the role of John Lake effectively instils panic in the mind of the viewer, as they follow his desperate journey across Laos.
River has very much has the feel of a short film, perhaps due to Dagg’s previous work on shorts, but possesses the strength to engage its spectators for the length of a full feature. Definitely one to watch this summer.
River is released nationwide on 8th July 2016.
Watch the trailer for River here: