River’s Edge (1987)
Dir: Tim Hunter
Starring: Crispin Glover, Ione Skye, Dennis Hopper, Keanu Reeves
2012 is the 25th anniversary of the release of the independent film River’s Edge and it is still as fresh today as it was all that time ago. Set against a backdrop of American suburbia, grunge music and teenage apathy the film follows the story of the aftermath of the murder of a teenage girl by her friend and examines the bizarre reaction of her social circle. The film does not centre on the murderer, Sampson (Daniel Roebuck), a brutish young man, but rather on his best friend Layne (Crispin Glover). As the wasted and mercurial rebel strives to conceal his best friend’s crime he winds up increasingly more fearful and demented as we realise that the danger he poses is born of paranoia.
Glover’s performance in this film is explosive. Perfectly cast as the unhinged and strung-out teenager, Glover brings a true sense of moral ambiguity to the character. Layne’s attempts to justify his behaviour are given true uncertainty through Glover’s delivery throughout the film. His performance really draws out the question – who is more demented, the murderer or the man that seeks to protect him? River’s Edge also features a typically excellent wild performance from Dennis Hopper as the teens’ friend Feck – a drug dealing, sex doll-squiring one-legged killer who sells them weed and eventually takes in Sampson for protection.
Based on a real murder, the film is a darkly comic analysis of the events that took place. Director Tim Hunter offers no explanation for the behaviour of the troubled teens except to infuse the incident and its entire fall out with a pervasive sense of tragedy. From the unmistakable opening sequence to its climax, River’s Edge feels the tragedy of the events that take place far more than the teenagers involved. There is no hope for the kids in this film. When drugs are involved in standard Hollywood fair the kids are usually presented with a choice – to take them or not? In River’s Edge they made that choice a long time ago. They are alcoholics and drug abusers and as such are heavily detached from reality. Except for two of the kids, Clarissa (Ione Skye) and Matt (Keanu Reeves). Clarissa and Matt act as the moral centre of the film. They don’t want to live the lifestyle their friends lead and have somehow managed to get sucked into it anyway.
Dark, disturbing and peppered with black comedy, River’s Edge is not a film you will soon forget.