TIFF 2015: Downriver
The ecological dangers of the Australian outback are widely known, but it’s the evil nature of its occupants that sets the stage for Grant Scicluna’s Downriver. An Aussie mystery thriller that relies heavily on its fascinating characters, the film is consistently suspenseful, despite occasionally overstaying its welcome.
Shortly after being released from juvenile detention for the drowning death of a young boy, James (Reef Ireland) returns to his hometown to an expected lack of open arms. Maintaining his innocence, James ventures out in search of the truth, in hopes of bringing the real murderer to justice. His journey leads him to his old friend Anthony (Tom Green), a sociopathic young man who seemingly has a stranglehold on many of the townsfolk.
One of the most noticeable aspects of Downriver is the fact that despite being set in a small community that includes an ensemble cast, it’s bereft of young women. The handful of females in the film are middle-aged, and it’s almost as if it’s set in some sort of weird dystopian society where teenage girls aren’t allowed. Perhaps this is due to the fact that a majority of the main characters are gay or bisexual males—and therefore choose to associate themselves with other boys—but it’s a strange aspect, regardless. At times it feels as if Scicluna is crafting a social commentary on homophobia in Australia, but exactly what he’s saying—if anything—seems to go over my head.
Superb performances from a talented young cast keep Downriver engaging for the most part. There are a few moments that drag during the second act, but the finale makes the occasionally slow-paced journey worthwhile. An eerie discovery wraps up the film’s intense and unsettling conclusion, which borders on becoming downright frightening. It’s not quite as graphic or dangerous as some of the other recent thrillers out of Australia, but Downriver is still a welcome import from one of cinema’s most underrated countries.