As if updating Roman Polanski's moody, 1963 psychodrama KNIFE IN THE WATER weren't audacious enough, directors Josh Apter and Peter Olsen decided to do it without a proper script. With just a bare plot outline, three game actors and an extraordinary faith in the virtues of improvisation, these first-time feature filmmakers came up with an interesting psychological thriller that, more often than not, actually works. Apter, Olsen and their cast who also receive screenwriting credit preserved Polanski's basic premise, but shifted the locale to the green, rolling hills of New York State's Catskill Mountains. Freelance nature photographer Ren (Hilary Howard) and her husband, Mitchell (Mitchell Riggs), a computer consultant, leave New York City for a relaxing weekend at the nearly deserted Brookside Cottages, where they hope to conceive a baby. As their VW Bug winds its way through the misty, off-season roads, Ren and Mitchell pass Lyle (Anthony Leslie), a scruffy hitchhiker thumbing a ride in the drizzling rain. On impulse, Ren picks him up; later, when they learn that he doesn't have a place to spend the night, Ren and Mitchell invite him to bunk with them. At first Lyle doesn't have much to say, but as the day wears on, it becomes clear that local boy Lyle doesn't much care for the way the upwardly mobile Mitchell lives. Lyle seems to particularly resent Mitchell's dependence on his cell phone, railing against the new cellular towers ruining the Appalachian landscape. Mitchell in turn treats Lyle with thinly veiled contempt, but Ren is fascinated; listening to the carefree Lyle talk about hiking the entire Appalachian Trail stirs her own wanderlust. Once the drinking starts, the cracks in Ren and Mitchell's marriage begin to show: Mitchell is a fussy, patronizing control freak, Ren hates his lack of spontaneity and resents being thought of as a baby machine. And as the night wears on, both begin to suspect that inviting this stranger into their lives wasn't such a good idea. Reportedly shot for under $25,000 over the course of 13 days during the summer of 2000, the film is surprisingly successful in developing a sense of mounting dread. Unfortunately, it stumbles at the 11th hour: The denouement demands that Ren Mitchell and Lyle act in ways too far out of character to be entirely believable. Perhaps psychological development this subtle shouldn't be left entirely to adventurous improvisation.
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- Released: 2002
- Rating: NR
- Review: As if updating Roman Polanski's moody, 1963 psychodrama KNIFE IN THE WATER weren't audacious enough, directors Josh Apter and Peter Olsen decided to do it without a proper script. With just a bare plot outline, three game actors and an extraordinary faith… (more)