Saturday, April 4, 2020

River's Edge 1986 - Movie Review

Probably the Darkest Teen Movie of its time

Inspired by the sensational real-life murder of 14 year old Marcy Renee Conrad on November 3, 1981, in Milpitas, California by Anthony Jacques Broussard, a then 16-year-old high school student, this controversial crime drama is a grim watch about dissociated youth and the moral malaise that affects society. Ironically, even after 34 years, River's Edge has not lost its social relevance.

Remember "Stand by Me", the Rob Reiner directed, Oscar-nominated 1986 adventure drama? A young little Jerry O'Connell asks River Phoenix and his other buddies: "You guys want to go see a dead body?" In "River's Edge", Samson Tollet, "John" (Daniel Roebuck)  to his white trash posse, kills his girlfriend and leads his friends to see her nude corpse, on the river's edge. "Dude! I saw it! I poked at it with a stick." Of course, John has a motive for his crime. "Why did you kill her?" "She was talking shit.", he says nonchalantly.

If "Stand by Me" based on the Stephen King novella was a sweet coming of age cinema, "River's Edge" coincidentally also released in 1986, is like its strung-out somber antidote version; a social drama and a dark satire all wrapped up in a horrific teen movie camouflage. 
John's friends, led by Layne (Crispin Glover) decide to cover up the murder for him. But Layne is the only one really committed to the plan. He buries the dead girl and nobody helps, not even John. "I'll be expecting a sixer for this," says Layne, dumping the body in the river. "You'd think I'd at least rate a Michelob," says Layne, when John gives him a sixer of Bud.

One gets to gawk at the Pre-"Speed" teaming of Keanu Reeves and Dennis Hopper too. Keanu, a relatively unknown star then plays Matt, the burn-out with a conscience and Hopper plays Feck, a nutso shut-in with a stash of premium weed, which he gladly gives to Layne and his friends whenever they visit, as long as they talk nice to his inflatable girlfriend, Ellie. Feck had a real girlfriend once, but he had to kill her. So he and John have something in common. 

Their psycho bonding time goes like this! "I killed a girl once, put a gun to the back of her head, blew her brains out the front. I loved her." Feck "I strangled mine." John "Did you love her?" Feck "She was all right." John 

Matt's little brother Tim (Joshua John Miller) is the evilest kid since The Omen's Damien. He drowns his little sister's doll. When Matt beats him up, he hatches a plan to kill Matt and tells his Asian punk friend, "Go get your nunchucks and your dad's car!" Watch your back, Matt! Eventually, somebody narcs to the cops. Furious, Layne drives around in his jacked-up VW Bug trying to figure out a plan. Meanwhile, Matt gets together with Layne's girlfriend, played by Ione Skye. He also has a big fight with his mother's boyfriend, who lives with the family. "You just stay around here to fuck my mother and eat our food. Mother Fucker! Food Eater!" 

The alienated kids spend a lot of time wondering why they don't feel worse about their dead friend. Maybe it's because they're jealous of her? Maybe it's our morally bankrupt society? Maybe it's just ennui? "Sometimes I think it would be a lot easier being dead." "That's bullshit. You couldn't get stoned anymore."

Film Critic Emanuel Levy wrote that River's Edge "addresses the alienation and moral vacancy among American kids growing up in a drug-oriented, valueless culture. River's Edge has the disturbing quality of a collective fear - the cherished, eagerly awaited adolescence is presented as confusing and vacuous. Unlike most 1980s teenage sex comedies, this film doesn't glamorize youth, instead depicting it as a bleak, aimless coming of age, a time of boredom, stupor, and waste." However, Levy writes that the film does share in common with its peers the manner in which it presents adult figures, as "irresponsible and indifferent".

Watch this movie for a much more insightful look at 80's disconnected youth. The added bonus is Keanu Reeves and the Heavy Metal soundtrack (if you are a Metal fan) featuring the likes of Slayer and Agent Orange. And in case you were curious, Anthony Jacques Broussard, the original murderer now 55, is still in prison.


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