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Molding Clay
 
 
April 2007 SITE MAP   SEARCH

River's End
cast: Barry Corbin, Sam Huntington, Caroline Goodall, Clint Howard, and Charles Durning

director: William Katt

94 minutes (PG) 2005
widescreen ratio 16:9
Pumpjack DVD Region 1 retail


RATING: 4/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
On the surface, River's End is a bland and formulaic family-oriented thriller. The leads are attractive and non-threatening, there's a little bit of action and a few laughs and the film ends with a moral. However, the problem is that the moral that this film tries to impart is not some bland truism about being oneself or being honest, it is about the value of fitting in and how parents are justified in using any means necessary to prevent their children from becoming nonconformists.

As the film starts, Clay (Sam Huntington) is an introverted and awkward teenager. Never having recovered from seeing his father drown, the boy's psychological trauma surfaced in a very public way and rather than be understanding of his problems, his local community turn against him and bully him relentlessly. This pushes Clay to become an outsider, spiking up his hair and painting his nails. Small towns being what they are, this only enrages the bullies more who even go so far as to dump a poisonous snake down his trousers for laughs. In a daze, Clay crashes his truck into a postbox. This, according to Clay's grandfather the local sheriff (Barry Corbin), is a crime worthy of time in a federal prison. However, thanks to good ol' boy politics, the sheriff can get Clay let off the crime if he agrees to go on a canoeing holiday.

Initially, Clay is comically inept, tipping the boat over, making himself throw up by eating the wrong things and generally having a miserable time all alone on the Pecos river. All he has to keep him going are hour after hour of his grandfather's Hitlerian rants about camping and respecting one's elders. After a few days, the brainwashing takes effect upon the starving and exhausted young man and, when confronted with a couple of outlaws, he proceeds to murder one using snake venom and brutally clubs another unconscious with a piece of wood in a scene eerily reminiscent of the famous scene in Deliverance (1972). Mercifully though, the outlaws had a pretty teenaged girl with them so Clay doesn't have to rape them... he can instead pour all of his self-loathing, hatred and spunk into his new girlfriend (who clearly digs sociopaths as before she dated the murderous Clay she dated his chief bully).

What is so completely chilling about this film is that it is not only moralistic (the director even recorded an introduction explaining his dream of making a film based on his own experiences growing up), but it also has an astonishingly reactionary moral. Clay is not a criminal or a drug addict; he is just a bit stroppy and has values completely adrift from those of his local community. In short, he behaves and dresses the way that most modern teenagers do. However, despite not being a danger to himself or anyone else, Clay is forced to have his personality broken down and then rebuilt in a manner more conducive to his 'fitting in', even if that means that he becomes the kind of man who would use a snake to attack someone (a tactic used against Clay at the beginning of the film). Indeed, despite Clay not hurting anyone and being justifiably angry with his family and community for their lack of understanding, the message of the film is that Clay brings all of his miseries on himself by failing to conform. In fact, it's no accident that Clay bears the name he does as the film's director and writer see teenagers as being much like pottery; if you don't like what you've got just break it up and start the process of remoulding.

Aside from the 1950s' style parenting, the film is actually quite nicely made despite having a limited budget. The cast are broadly pleasant with Huntington proving to be quite sympathetic in a dozy cheesecake way. Corbin (who once played Maurice in Northern Exposure) is a pleasant character actor who lays the folksy charm on with a trowel but keeps a twinkle in his eye. The direction is pretty competent too with some nice photography along the way.

In preparing this review I noticed that River's End has received a number of positive reviews from American 'concerned parents' websites and, frankly, this is the film's audience. In fact, I'm a little surprised to see it get a release over here at all. So, if you're a quite authoritarian parent then in all likelihood you'll find something to enjoy here, but if you're a teenager and you see this appear in your parents' DVD collection I'd be profoundly concerned as, outside of child pornography and the films of Larry Clark, you will not find a more disturbing guide to how to bring up a teenager.
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