Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Grant Scicluna
Stars: Reef Ireland, Tom Green, Charles Grounds, Kerry Fox, Robert Taylor, Helen Morse
This grim but atmospheric drama about guilt, grief, redemption and revenge, and dysfunctional families marks the feature film directorial debut for Grant Scicluna, whose short film The Wilding has been racking up awards at film festivals around the globe. The film centres around James (played by Reef Ireland, from Scicluna’s The Wilding, etc), who has been incarcerated in juvenile remand centre for his involvement in the drowning death of a young boy ten years earlier. Mystery still surrounds the incident though as the body has never been found and wild rumours circulate about the nature of the crime. Released on parole, James returns to the small town where he lived intent on finding closure. But his presence is not exactly welcomed, and there are some in the town who would prefer the ghosts of the past are never raised again.
Downriver is at times a confronting film and there is a strong homoerotic tone to much of the drama. Scicluna avoids the neat resolution, leaving it up to audiences to interpret what happens to some of the characters.
In a role written with him in mind, Ireland has a strong presence, and brings a mix of emotions to his complex and nuanced performance. His character is not that far removed from the one he played in The Wilding. Tom Green (Camp, etc) is also strong as Anthony, a local bad boy and James’ former childhood friend who has his own secrets, while Charles Grounds brings a hint of vulnerability and naivete to his role as Damien, the local gay boy who lives in the same caravan park as James. Veterans Kerry Fox, Robert Taylor and Helen Morse, making a rare film appearance, round out the cast.
The river is a potent metaphor for Scicluna, and has become a metaphor for the destructive power of both nature and man in a number of films from the classic Deliverance through to The River Wild, etc, and here the river has a palpable presence that overshadows events. The film was shot on location around the Warrandyte area in regional Victoria, and Laszlo Baranyai’s evocative cinematography enriches the downbeat material.