Barely out of his teens, James (Reef Ireland) has just been released from prison, after spending a good chunk of his adolescence locked away for the drowning murder of another child. Adamant about his innocence, James skips the halfway house and instead heads back to his mother’s old cabin and the scene of the crime. The body in the murder was never found, and James has theories, suspects and potential witnesses in mind that could clear his name. However, as new allies and old enemies begin colliding, James’s search for the truth threatens to uncover a number of deeply repressed feelings for those around him.
The debut feature from Australian Grant Scicluna, Downriver calls to mind a psychosexual reimagining of River’s Edge, not in terms of plot, but in tone, sense of conflict and composure. For the first hour or so, Downriver is a quiet, restrained thriller punctuated by moments of menace and malevolence. Once the intricately plotted scenario begins to reveal itself, Scicluna’s work becomes brutally exciting. It is a great character study, set within a world of some of the most sheltered, self-loathing characters in recent memory, as well as a community that simply ignores its problems, rather than resolve them and move forward. It’s also performed brilliantly by the entire cast.
There are tender moments throughout, but the film progresses into something genuinely disturbing and boundary-pushing. I’ve never seen a thriller unfold in quite the same way as Scicluna’s, making for an original first feature.