Deliverance, John Boorman’s muscular 1972 classic about a weekend of male bonding gone all wrong, is a film that seems to inspire ridicule, pastiche and parody—easy-to-chew fodder for The Simpsons or South Park. Perhaps that’s because its four suburban male protagonists aren’t so much characters as repositories of every anxiety under the Georgia sun. They fear women, nature, technological progress, hillbillies, and penises, all in equal measure. And so it’s understandable why underground filmmaker Jennifer Montgomery has attempted to deconstruct Boorman’s depiction of masculine panic in her new feature Deliver, which will have its world premiere tomorrow night at BAMcinematek.
Deliver has an all-female cast, starring Montgomery herself and a cast of fellow filmmaker/academics, the most memorable of which is Peggy Ahwesh as the self-appointed leader of the canoeing expedition (played by a wet-suited Burt Reynolds in the original). The foursome act as versions of their professional selves, discussing the rat race for tenure as they head downriver, which in this case is a placid stream in the Catskills named, appropriately, Beaverkill.
Scene-to-scene, the flat, affectless performances of the cast deliver, so to speak, some genuine lo-fi critique of American machismo. But by the time we reach the climactic rape scene, the stilted artificiality of this exercise starts to feel strained, as well as unfair to the strange, unaccountable beauty of Boorman’s original. Rather than expose that film (and by extension James Dickey’s source novel) as literally incredible, the effect is to remind us of how immediate those white-water rapids still are thirty-five years later.
That said, Montgomery’s film marks a worthy beginning for Migrating Forms, a new program from former New York Underground Film Festival curators Nellie Killian and Kevin McGarry. No mere Hollywood remake, Deliver is a gung-ho assault on one of mainstream American cinema’s most familiar texts.—Benjamin Strong