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Review: Dark and Compelling 'Downriver'

by Kilian Melloy
Saturday Nov 28, 2020

How do we account for things in the past we no longer understand, assuming we ever understood them in the first place? As time passes, taking us forever downstream from pivotal events, is it possible to retrace our steps, re-visit the scene of a crime — or an accident — and make amends?

These are the musings behind Grant Scicluna's low-key thriller "Downriver," an Australian import that made a splash in its home country and then did the same here in 2016.

James (Reef Ireland) has spent years in juvenile detention for the death of a missing boy. Did he murder the kid? Was there sexual abuse of the body, as rumor has it? Or did the boy simply drown, his body then washed to sea or dragged away by wild dogs?

Unable to answer any such questions for sure, James returns to his home town under a cloud, but determined to find... well, the body, if possible, though after all these years that's a dubious proposition. Maybe he can, at least, find out... or finally tell... the truth.

But the system doesn't make anything easy — neither the unofficial social code by which the locals live, nor the criminal justice system, which shields "witnesses" like boyhood friend Anthony (Thom Green) from convicts like James. By signing a paper, Anthony and his family ensure a legal buffer of five kilometers between themselves and James. But what if Anthony knows more than he's been telling all these years? That's the sense one gets when Anthony tracks James down at a riverside resort, where James' family owns a cabin to which James has retreated, to spare his mother the disruption of his notorious presence.

James isn't the only one at the cabins that interests Anthony. There's a young man named Damien (Charles Grounds) summering there with his parents and sister. It doesn't take the rakish Anthony much effort to pick Damien up and launch into a torrid affair with him — but as the past continues to boil up around Anthony and James, what role will Damien play?

Scicluna has worked with Reef before, on a short project about another youthful offender. Both director and lead actor seem quite comfortable with the material, enough so that they can explore dark psychological depths and twisted, damaged personal relationships with assurance. Americans familiar with the "Paradise Lost" documentary trilogy about the murder of a child and the purported railroading of several boys on the basis that they were "different" will feel a tickle of kinship between these projects, but the dark and murderous mysteries Scicluna hints at retain their own distinctive shapes.

"Downriver" plays at the OUTShine Film Festival Dec 3-6, 2020

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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