Suspicious River


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

In this age of therapy, everything requires a reason.

Obsessions are mysterious because their causes lurk in the vaults of the subconscious. Ever since a shrink pigeonholed the behaviour of Norman Bates at the end of Psycho, shockers have provided easy-to-understand explanations, as if an audience left in the dark might feel too afraid.

There is something of Twin Peaks about Suspicious River. The title is the name of the place, an isolated community off the highway in Northern Canada, surrounded by forests and mountains. Leila (Molly Parker) is a receptionist at the motel. She appears efficient and businesslike, except that she offers sexual favours in addition to clean towels.

The contrast between Leila's cool exterior and her willingness to service the guests is so extreme, it creates a mood of intrigue. Does she enjoy the humiliation, or even the sex? Is the money that important to her?

When an attractive stranger (Callum Keith Rennie) books in, things are different. He has a sadistic streak that excites her in an unexpected way and his behaviour starts to look dangerous. Is this an analogy for drugs, the addiction and the risk inexorably linked?

The need to explain arises, confusing matters. Leila befriends a girl, who may, or may not, be her young self. This pretentious device spoils the purity of the plot, as if knowledge of her abusive childhood is essential to understand the behaviour of the adult.

Parker and director Lynne Stopkewich worked together on Kissed (1996), concerning an even more difficult subject - necrophilia - with greater success. Problems with Suspicious River may belong to the source material. In different hands, it could have been hardcore pulp noir, with violent overtones. That it isn't, does credit to Parker's craft and Stopkewich's sensibility.

Reviewed on: 13 Sep 2001
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Suspicious River packshot
A hotel receptionist offers sex as part of the service.
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Director: Lynne Stopkewich

Writer: Lynne Stopkewich, based on the novel by Laura Kasischke

Starring: Molly Parker, Callum Keith Rennie, Mary Kate Welsh, Joel Bissonnette, Deanne Milligan

Year: 2000

Runtime: 95 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Canada


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