Color, 1986, 99 mins. 44 secs.
Directed by Tim Hunter
Starring Crispin Glover, Keanu Reevs, Ione Skye, Daniel Roebuck, Dennis Hopper, Joshua Miller, Josh Richman, Roxana Zal, Leo Rossi, Jim Metzler
Camera Obscura (Blu-ray) (Austria RB HD), Signal One (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Kino Lorber (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), MGM (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
The dark flip side to the wave of classic teen movies that defined the 1980s, River's Edge is loosely inspired by a true crime event and marked a very sinister turn for director Tim Hunter in his third film, following the more genteel adolescent stories of Tex and Sylvester. The first-time script by Neal Jimenez (Hideaway) proved shocking to many viewers when the film came out at the height of the "Just Say No" era when the worst thing most parents could imagine was teens having sex or smoking pot. Instead audiences got a jarring tale of young apathy and dysfunction that had its roots in juvenile delinquent films and the earlier masterpieces Over the Edge and Out of the Blue, here taken to macabre extremes with the most realistic, lingering depiction of a cadaver seen in mainstream cinema to that point.
While hanging out by the river near his Northern California neighborhood, Tim (Miller) sees the older John (Roebuck) on the other side with the recently murdered body of his girlfriend, Jaime, with whom he had been fighting at a party the night before. John goes on to break the news of the murder to his peers, Layne (Glover) Tim's older brother, Matt (Reeves), Clarissa (Skye), Maggie (Zal), and Tony (Richman). All of them have different reactions and decide to see the body for themselves, with some assuming it's a practical joke. Confronted with the grim reality instead, they don't go to the police but instead go into various forms of denial or attempt to help cover up the crime. In the process they pull others into their orbit including local pot dealer Feck (Hopper), and soon they are all spiraling towards an outcome that may be as shocking than the crime that started it all.
Impeccably acted by a range of new and familiar faces, River's Edge proved to be a strong showcase for Glover (fresh off of Back to the Future and Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter), Reeves (a newcomer at the time), Skye (in her debut, followed soon after by Say Anything), Roebuck (who made this in between Cavegirl and Dudes, believe it or not), Zal (star of the notorious made-for-TV classic, Something About Amelia), and Miller, who would steal scenes left and right in Near Dark a year later. It's obviously a very grim viewing experience but a very rewarding one as well for those who know what's in store.
River's Edge has been steadily available on home video in every major format since the late '80s, including a DVD from MGM once it was inherited as part of the Island Films library. The first Blu-ray appeared in the U.S from Kino Lorber featuring a solid audio commentary with Hunter, followed later that year by an expanded U.K. edition from Signal One featuring the commentary, a filmed intro (7m51s) and Q&A (24m31s) with filmmaker Richard Linklater from a screening at the Austin Film Festival that can be played separately or in tandem, and the theatrical trailer. In 2019, Austrian label Camera Obscura ventured outside of its established Euro-cult pattern by giving the film a new special edition, porting over the commentary and trailer but otherwise outfitting with substantial new extras. Roebuck appears for the new interview featurette "Livin' on the Edge" (52m) with in-depth recollections about being part of the young cast and experiencing the film's enthusiastic public reception, while cinematographer Frederick Elmes is interviewed in "Under the Bridge" (33m20s) about his own professional history, his career intersection with Hunter, and the intended look of the film reflecting the emptiness of the young characters. A German theatrical trailer and image gallery are also included. Audio options on the disc include LPCM English and German 2.0 stereo with subtitle options in both languages (you haven't lived until you've heard Crispin Glover dubbed in German), and though all three discs are taken from the same MGM transfer, this is the strongest of the three with deep black levels and the most generous bit rate; the Signal One is the closest to it in appearance, with the U.S. disc looking a few notches brighter and flatter by comparison.
Reviewed on April 23, 2018