Written and directed by Rob Willey, who previously directed the 2016 horror thriller Dark Cove, River Road is a 2022 crime thriller that stars Cody Kearsley of Riverdale fame. Lexi Redman, Steven Roberts and Primo Allon also star in the film that was just released on streaming platforms over the world.
River Road charts the story of Travis, an up-and-coming musician who moves to Canada. Meeting a free-spirited young woman called Zoe at a party, the two hit it off immediately. As the two start a passionate romance, they both begin to try heroin, choosing to escape into their own little fantasies as they grow closer together. As they go deeper into the rabbit hole, a cascade of bad events await them, waiting to tear their life apart. As robberies, gun fights and scary drug dealers threaten to derail their lives, it seems Zoe has been hiding a secret of her own, one that will not only destroy their romance but also upend Travis’s whole life as we know it.
The first half of the film cements the intense relationship between the two leads, Travis and Zoe. Meeting as a result of a chance encounter, the two hit it off immediately. As their relationship deepens, so does their bond and before long, they seem inseparable. However, all is not well in love and suddenly, secrets are revealed that force the two to reevaluate their passionate relationship. Whether the two make it together by the end or not, it is clear but this romantic affair has upended both of their lives, for better or for worse.
Fans of the hit teen drama Riverdale will immediately recognize Cody Kearsley who played Moose Mason on the show. Bringing his charisma to the role, Kearsley is a solid lead whose range and depth of the character carries the whole film. Playing a mysterious, hot-headed musician and a hopeless romantic in the same breadth, Kearsley plays well against Lexi Redman and the two’s romantic journey is both believable and tragic. In addition, Steven Roberts as the film’s main antagonist Fresno is a revelation and his character proves to be a formidable adversary for Travis to overcome. All in all, all characters are well written and the actors get to inject their own sense and sensibilities into them for the service of the story.
Willey’s direction is great and the way he uses visual cues to exhibit drug use deserve special praise. Using a purple starry tint to illustrate how characters are feeling when they are on heroin, Willey makes the film a bold statement about how drug use threatens and destroys young lives.
There is a social message about the hazards of drug use here, but it is not in a way that feels preachy. Rather, Willey uses the action and crime depicted to ultimately make us feel about the characters and how wrong choices by them upend the very nature of their lives. While the dialogues could have used some more polishing, the script does get its intended job done with flying colours.
From a narrative perspective, the film makes great strides. The story is told in flashbacks with the present timeline consisting of Travis reminiscing about the time spent with Lexi. Cutting back and forth between past and present flawlessly, Willey ensures that the momentum of the film does not falter. The tone remains consistent throughout and the pace keeps up nicely with the story as well. The film’s short runtime works in its favour as well as useless takes are cut out and only the stuff required to properly service the story remains.
It is in the visual department that the film makes the most impact. Capturing the misty cold of Canada flawlessly, it is the film’s drug sequences that are the most impressive. The drone shots that are interspersed with the action added a layer of thrill and the car chases and shootouts that take place during the climax are great as well. The action is mostly limited to the third act with the rest of the film serving as a base for character development. This is a genius creative decision on Willey’s part as it makes us care about the characters and their plights. The explosive finale, therefore, feels a long time coming and is mostly satisfactory on all levels.
In a microcosm, River Road is an intriguing film that successfully manages to shake off its low budget vibes. The actors are great and so are the performances and the story works well as a mish mash of the romance and crime genres. With a surprising twist, an honest analysis of teen issues and good acting, River Road coasts by as a solid, low stakes film that punches way above its weight class.
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About the film
Written and directed by Rob Willey, this gritty independent drama/thriller stars an incredibly talented group of Vancouver based actors: Cody Kearsley (Riverdale, Power Rangers, Daybreak) as Travis, Lexi Redman (Concrete Evidence) as Zoe, Steven Roberts (Tully, Beyond the Woods) in his 2021 Leo Award winning performance as Fresno, Primo Allon (Altered Carbon, Godzilla) as Cole. The film also stars Sunee Dhaliwal, Aaron Pearl and Melanie Rose Wilson.
Watch River Road now on Apple TV!