River’s Edge

A dead girl on a riverbank. A group of teen burnouts who know her boyfriend killed her. Nowadays, this would be the premise for a true crime podcast; in 1986, it was the premise of River’s Edge, a teen drama directed by Tim Miller and starring Crispin Glover, Keanu Reeves, Ione Skye, and Dennis Hopper.

It’s a film that came to my attention because I follow Ione Skye on Instagram (because of course I do. I have the poster from Say Anything in my basement) and she’s posted still and behind-the-scenes photos here and there, so when I saw it was about to leave Amazon Prime in the beginning of September, I decided to give it a try.

It’s an odd movie. The premise, like I said, is that a girl–Jamie–has been murdered by her boyfriend and one by one her group of friends learns about it. They’re all burnouts who often cut class to get high and their reactions to her death are pretty apathetic. Layne (Glover) seems to care more about protecting John–Jamie’s boyfriend and murderer–and hides him at the house of his dealer Feck (Hopper), a recluse who is supposedly a fugitive and has a relationship with a blow-up doll. Only Matt (Reeves) has misgivings and eventually rats John out to the cops. This upsets his little brother Tim, an 11-year-old sociopath who says he’ll kill him for it.

I’ve said this before about a couple of films (mostly recently, Some Kind of Wonderful), but River’s Edge is a 1990s film in so many ways, even if it was made several years before the beginning of that particular decade. The characters all fit in with the types we’d see moping around in music videos in 1992 or in flicks like Where the Day Takes You (an underrated movie from that era). I was also intrigued by the film because I knew a lot of these people back in high school. No, I didn’t hang around with them, but I’d see them in the halls or had gym class with them or would pass them when walking home because they were smoking down by the brook near the high school parking lot.

Now, it’s not perfect, if I’m being honest. The score is weirdly off, and probably not necessary, especially considering there’s a number of punk and hardcore tracks on the soundtrack. Glover and Hopper try to out act one another, which means they chew scenery like they’re starving for it. But Reeves and Skye are outstanding, both of them very young and early in their careers. In fact, they more or less carry the film. I will give credit to Joshua John Miller as Tim, who wants to be part of the older kids’ group so bad and also shows signs of being a real evil little shit, especially since nobody seems to really care where he goes or what he does. Plus, the movie is paced well and looks and feels lived in. Are we watching a film or watching a bunch of real-live Gen-X teenagers here?

River’s Edge is a chilling film about having grown up with a hard life and seem to live in a sense of nothing. All of these kids are in some way or another going nowhere but they all have that arrogance of thinking that they know much more than any of their peers or the adults in the room. It makes for an intriguing and suspenseful film that earns a satisfying ending, which I won’t mention because I think that if you can find this somewhere, you should give it a look.

Watch or Skip?

Watch.

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