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Strange and Fantastic Tales (Sundance Edition): ‘River’s Edge’

Murder and teen angst fuel A River’s Edge

Tim Hunter’s teen crime drama River’s Edge played at the Sundance Film Festival in 1987. The first scene opens with a young boy torturing a plastic baby doll. He is distracted by a strange yell that sounds almost animalistic. This sets the bleak and somber tone for River’s Edge. Directed by Tim Hunter and written by Neal Jimenez, River’s Edge  stars Ione Skye, Crispin Glover, and Keanu Reeves in this film about the frailty of human existence. 

The action and inaction make this a remarkable story. John, whose real name is Samson, shows up to school and announces to his friends that he has killed his girlfriend Jamie. His voice is quiet and even, which makes the situation more disturbing. His friends do not believe him and they go see the body. There are shots of the dead body interspersed through the film. 

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The audience is shown the brutality of her death and the progression of death settling over the body as it lies on the ground throughout the day. The reactions to the body can be polarizing. Some are curious, some amused, and some are put off and retreat.

Strange and Fantastic Tales (Sundance Edition): 'River's Edge' 

Cruelty, loyalty, and mortality are recurring themes throughout this film. The most emotive friend is Layne (Crispin Glover) who is very passionate about moving the body. He feels they owe it to John as his friends to help hide the body. No one moves to help, including John. It is Clarissa who brings up that they should also have an obligation to their dead friend Jamie.

John recognizes the gravity of the situation and his behavior makes it seem like he wants to get caught. As the day moves on Clarissa (Ione Skye) and Matt (Keanu Reeves) are the only ones who feel they should turn John in. Layne is the only one who wants to protect John and the rest of the group do not care. Layne has already established he does not have an issue with murder. He is also friends with a lonely and insane drug dealer Feck, played by Dennis Hopper, who tells anyone who will listen how he shot his girlfriend. 

The violence against women is viewed very casually by the group. Even Clarissa who is concerned asks Matt to report the murder and she seems fine about it. Matt (Keanu Reeves) is the character who has been the most outspoken against cruelty. He has a sadistic little brother Tim (Joshua Miller) who likes to torture his younger sister by killing her dolls. Matt lets his emotions take over when he is frustrated with Tim. “Why are you like this?” This question can be applied to the majority of the friends. 

Strange and Fantastic Tales (Sundance Edition): 'River's Edge'

Dennis Hopper as Feck is brilliantly psychotic and Crispin Glover’s portrayal of Layne is amazingly strange. This film has some strong and inspired performances. and a very intriguing story. It raises questions of friendship, human nature, and independence.  Watch this film with the kind of friends who will call the cops if you go missing.

Continue to check out AIPT for our ongoing coverage of the Sundance Film Festival. Tickets and a full lineup can be found here.

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