River Wild


‘…with small-scale action that doesn’t test credulity too much, and terse, committed acting, River Wild is a reasonably taut thriller which keeps you watching…’

In general, it’s safe to file ‘bold re-imagining’ alongside ‘rollercoaster ride of emotion’ and ‘it’s as if the landscape was a character’ on the list of descriptive clichés that could safely be retired due to constant, inaccurate use. But Ben Ketai’s reboot, remake, sequel or ‘re-imagining’ of Curtis Hanson’s 1996 Meryl Streep action movie is probably justified in using at least part of the name of the original film; as before, this is a outdoor action movie with criminal trimmings, with Gossip Girl’s Leighton Meester stepping into the central role of a doctor who agrees to a wild weekend white –water rafting without guessing that the group activity will lead to stark, violent tragedy.

So we drop the ‘the’ in the modern fashion, and most of the Die Hard-y elements featured in Denis O’Neil’s original script. Joey Reese (Meester) and her brother Gray (Taran Killiam) set out for some frothy river action with their old pal Trevor (Gilmore Girls star Adam Brody) and a couple of girls; Trevor has done some time, and Joe is suspicious of some of his strange behaviour. But when one of the girls falls and injures herself while up-river, there’s an urgent need to get her to medical attention, and for some reason Trevor hasn’t charged the phones, leaving the group with a treacherous return journey with time of the essence…

River Wild starts with the expected self-referential joke about the threatening banjos of John Boorman’s Deliverance, but it’s always clear that the threat to Joey’s group comes from the inside her team rather than any backwoods folk; in general, this is a darker and more intense survivalist fable that the Hanson/Streep version. But although Ketai’s film rings changes on the original idea, the overall effect isn’t that different; Joey finds herself heading along the river with a maniac, trying to signal for help without arousing suspicion.

Meester and Brody turn out to be an item in real life, and clearly had fun chasing around some Eastern European locations, doubling for the US. With small-scale action that doesn’t test credulity too much, and terse, committed acting, River Wild is a reasonably taut thriller which keeps you watching till the satisfying river-as-deux-ex-machina ending. Those who select this film because they recognise the title from the original may well get a similar adrenaline jolt from this short, punchy re-imaging, which ultimately should help the original film stay in home-viewing circulation. Attaching a familiar title is no bad thing; brand familiarity isn’t a crime, and River Wild makes a splash that’s close enough to the original’s white-water thrills promise to be worth a look for genre addicts.

Thanks to Universal for access to this film, from Aug 1 2023 US on blu-ray and streaming.


Leave a Reply
  1. Can’t imagine the original was such a roaring success it qualified for a remake/reboot/reimagining/rererere. I enjoyed Streep’s venture into the action arena and that was part of the attraction. Without that, much as we can do with a taut thriller, I’m not sure this would have enough going for it.

    • But why make a thriller and call it River Adventure when River Wild will mean something; would I have reviewed this if there wasn’t a connection to the previous film? probably not.

      • Maybe copyright isses of the title. Kazan’s Wild River which was harldy a thriller might have failed dismally if titled Adventure River. I’ve got that coming up soon. My first venture into a directorial portfolio was a season of Kazan films while I was still at school held at the old Scottish Film Council offices in Woodside Terr with cigar-smoking John Brown operating the projector.

  2. Remember liking the original, though I was about 13 at the time so it’s been awhile. Definetly give this remake a go.

    Liked Leighton Meester in Country Strong (a criminally underrated movie).

    Has anyone ever made a worse trade than Lane Kim when she traded Dave Rygalski for that moron Zach?

    • Country Strong is another one I’m planning to rewatch.

      Last night’s viewing of River Wild was regular interrupted by catcalls like ‘what would Mrs Kim say!?’ And ‘Should never have left Hep Alien’. Still waiting for your professional opinion on Miss Patty’s heroin addiction…

  3. Haven’t seen the original. The idea just doesn’t attract me, so even a reboot with more action probably won’t do it for me either.

    That being said, at least this doesn’t seem to try to deface the original….

  4. The River Wild on my list of top 10- movies I love. I don’t think the ‘stars’ of this re-boot are in Streep or Bacon’s league (you don’t mention Bacon but he was an excellent baddie in it) and TBH I won’t be bothered to find out. I know ‘why go out for a burger when you can have steak at home’ is a saying usually used for other purposes but here it fits, you’ve inspired me to re-watch the original, and best. Nope.

  5. The picture at the top says “The” River Wild.

    I honestly can’t say if I saw the original. I feel like I did, but I can’t remember anything about it. Was Kevin Bacon in it?

    This doesn’t sound very interesting. Do you do much whitewater rafting in Scotland?

Leave a Reply