'The River Wild' review: A decent remake of the 1994 guilty pleasure
Courtesy of Universal
A remake is never really necessary, but when done efficiently, you can be glad they exist. That’s where 2023’s “River Wild” lands, a decent 90-minute chiller that doesn’t so much regurgitate the same plot points from the Meryl Streep/Kevin Bacon starrer, but creates an engrossing story in the same vein. Writer-director Ben Ketai manages to forge its own path, and finds an ensemble worth rooting for in Adam Brody, Taran Killam, and Leighton Meester.
Of course, it lacks the punch of the late Curtis Hanson and the sinister bravado of Bacon’s memorable performance, though Brody is having a gleeful time amping his villainous presence to eleven. Shot on location in Hungary, Slovakia, and Bosnia, Ketai’s slick reimagining takes some interesting leaps from its counterpart. It’s not so much a hostage thriller, but a survivalist one where motivations and backgrounds slowly unravel, sometimes in cartoonish methods, over the course of the film's breezy runtime. It follows a pair of siblings Joey and Gray (Killam and Meester) who are embarking on a white-water rafting expedition with some high school pals. One of them, Trevor (Brody), has been acting weird and seems intent on avoiding conversation.
After an injury leaves someone in the group in critical condition, the squad tries to race for help although that pesky Trevor is hellbent on thwarting rescue efforts. What was supposed to be a chill journey through the rapids quickly swerves towards something much darker and sinister. Even if the setup is completely ludicrous (how quickly Trevor goes from relaxed to bonkers never makes sense), Ketai, and co-writer Mike Nguyen Le, craft some taut water sequences that look more realistic than half the crap Disney has put out this summer. Not too shabby for a direct-to-dvd remake.
If only “River Wild” had stuck the landing and paid off the journey to get there, it could’ve excelled higher. The ending is fine, though it’s anti-climatic and fails to resolve several major character relationships and interactions that occurred throughout the movie. For instance, we find out some noteworthy events about why Joey and Gray have been estranged for as long as they have, though the movie brushes it under the rug. On one hand, the movie keeps the pace tight, but at the expense of expanding on that dynamic. Still, for a remake of a decent through not entirely beloved nineties cable hit, you could do much worse.
RIVER WILD is now streaming on Netflix and available on digital.