Strong Debut Feature ‘Take Me to the River’ Digs Deep Into Queasy Midwestern Family Drama


Matt Sobel’s earnest debut feature, Take Me to the River, pushes the limits of what being family — no matter what — really means. When seventeen-year-old Ryder (Logan Miller) and his parents travel from California to Nebraska for a family reunion, things inevitably go awry.

The teen wants to come out to his extended family, but his mother (Robin Weigert) demurs. Her Nebraskan kin live up to plains-dwelling hick stereotypes with their guns, pickup trucks…and barely veiled psychosexual issues. Ryder has a gaggle of cousins — mostly hulking farm bros and prepubescent girls — but the precocious nine-year-old Molly (Ursula Parker) really takes a shine to him.

After an off-camera jaunt in a farmhouse, suspicions about whether Ryder molested Molly erupt in a punch-filled ruckus that initiates a tense, days-long descent into rural family politics. The most evocative scenes are the smallest — playing with a paper fortune teller, scrubbing slanderous pitch off a car — and Thomas Scott Stanton’s cinematography captures the stagnant heat and dusty beauty of summer in Nebraska. As Ryder looks through a window at the serene farm, a bird rockets into the glass and flops onto the ground, shuddering its last breaths. The moment’s ripe with symbolism: Innocence can die brutally, even in the most pastoral of places.

Impeccable performances propel River through both sluggish and torturous scenes; Parker is superb, a pint-size talent who spars perfectly with Miller’s confused, naive teen. Prepare to be uncomfortable until the very last frame, as Sobel has crafted a deeply unsettling family whose secrets run deeper and darker than that river.

Take Me to the River
Written and directed by Matt Sobel
Film Movement
Opens March 18, Landmark Sunshine