Monday, 21 August 2006

River King, the (DVD) (2005)

This was almost the second coming of Twin Peaks. In midwinter, in a northern town, a body of a teenager is found. The image is striking: a young man with arms open, lying on his back, frozen solid in a river. It’s truly a sight to behold, and that’s why you rented this DVD. You think of flawed or eccentric investigators gradually unearthing deep and dark secrets of the townsfolk, as well as discovering the deceased wasn’t that innocent a victim. It helps that there’s a quirky mandolin score in the soundtrack, it raises our expectations of the Twin Peaks theme.

So. Abel Grey (Edward Burns) is our morose Canadian police investigator channelling the spirit of Duchovny, and is strangely convinced that the apparent suicide case could be more complex than it appears, and decides to poke around. The dead boy, Gus Pierce (Thomas Gibson), appears in flashbacks as an angsty genius outcast suffering – suffering! – in the local private boarding school and rejected membership by the elite fraternal society.

Apparently the investigation is hindered early on because the governors of the school make huge donations to the police force. Apparently the elite fraternal society might have something to hide about the boy’s death. And apparently, so did the girl he was having a close platonic relationship with, the same girl who is having a normal relationship with the fraternity’s leader and head prefect of the school.

Even before you know it, a promising whodunit has turned into a vehicle for... teenage angst and the evils of the private boarding school. What makes this standard mystery (which comes with its standard twists) somewhat less tolerable is how fast the movie glosses over the plot points, as if furiously ticking off some list hidden offscreen. There’s the love triangle between Abel, a female teacher, and her fiancé who happens to be the dean of the school. In both cases, you know there is something evil (TM) about the head boy and the dean, because they speak in really English public school accents, are cold and domineering. The dean is more evil because he invokes the harsh philosophy of the Spartans ("There must be no individuals!"), plays the cello (and hence is like a cultured Nazi officer), and hence probably knows what is happening.

Yet for all that these clichés are worth, and for all the time spent building up on the probable moral evil of the school and the people involved in Pierce’s murder or suicide, the horrifying thing is there is no real follow-through and no real payoff at the resolution of the movie. There is the side-plot of the apparitions of a small little boy wandering around during Abel’s investigations and what appears to be the ghost of Gus Pierce popping up in photographs. Both are resolved by the end of the movie, and both resolutions feel false.

If you liked the premise of this movie, I recommend you read the original book by Alice Hoffman. It appears that the film adaptation focused on all the wrong story arcs and themes from the book, and the screenwriter may have rewritten the original great ending.

First published at incinemas on 21 August 2006

No comments: