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Dark Family Secrets Lurk in ‘Take Me to the River’

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Jeremy Kinser

With Take Me to the River, director Matt Sobel delivers not only an atypical take on the coming-of-age story, but one of the most original movies to have premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. Sobel’s button-pushing mindfuck about adolescent sexuality and family secrets is a tenacious and taut drama that veers between comedy, drama, and thriller – sometimes within the same scene. It’s not an easily accessible film, but as described by programmer David Courier at the 2015 Sundance premiere, it’s the kind that defines what the NEXT section of the Festival is about. “It’s a richly textured movie,” Courier said.

Sobel’s debut feature follows Ryder (Logan Miller) an artistic gay California teen, completely comfortable with his orientation, who travels with his parents (Robin Weigert, Richard Schiff) for a family reunion in the Nebraska farmland. With his shaggy hair, sunglasses and bright red short-shorts, Ryan stands apart from his redneck relatives and is immediately greeted with derision during a cookout. His young cousin Molly (a remarkable Ursula Parker) becomes immediately infatuated, but when something off-screen happens in a barn, Ryder becomes the target of suspicion and is further banished by his uncle (a quietly menacing Josh Hamilton). It’s the beginnings of an excavation of a long-buried family secret.

Sobel, who also wrote the screenplay, said his inspiration came from his own family reunions in Nebraska which he emphasized were far less dramatic than the one depicted in the film. “I had a vivid nightmare about being falsely accused of something at one of these reunions and when I woke up I couldn’t remember exactly what it was,” he shared. “I remembered the feeling of not being able to defend myself and feeling like any sort of logic I’d use to defend myself would just get me in deeper. It became my goal to inject that feeling in a film.” He said the opening scene in which Ryder discusses whether he should come out to his conservative relatives was meant to set up audiences to expect a simplistic story, which would later be complicated. “At the end it doesn’t matter if he comes out because that’s not what the story is about anymore,” he added.

Molly’s complexities can be unsettling, particularly for her age. At the premiere, Weigert, who seemed very knowledgable about sociological behavior, offered that she sees Molly as being in a natural phase of development. “Both children are in a state of innocence together,” she suggested. “You see it written on their faces. There’s tremendous gentleness and you don’t see a child being hurt in this movie. You see a child exploring and the parents and adults around the child freaking out and needing to demonize someone for it.”

Take Me to the River opens at the Landmark Nuart Theater in Los Angeles on March 25 and 26 with director Matt Sobel and actors Logan Miller and Robin Weigert in attendance. Click here to enter a contest to win free tickets. The film expands throughout April, click here for a list of screenings.

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