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'River' explores the supernatural through life's most important relationships

July 21, 2021
2 min read time

River lives somewhere between the realm of Stranger Things and Beaches: It’s a relationship drama that examines questions about the nature of spirituality and what’s out there for all of us. Filmmaker Emily Skye was inspired by much of her personal life when crafting the project. “A best friend did pass away, and not by choice. I also looked back to some toxic and abusive relationships when writing this. And all my life I’ve loved science fiction — I wanted to make a movie grounded in human elements while also embracing the world of science fiction.”

River, played earnestly by Mary Cameron Rogers, disappears for a week in the wake of her mother’s death and with no recollection of what happened while she was away, River’s relationships with those closest to her start to unravel.

Rogers admits the role was tricky. “It was definitely an emotional experience,” she recalls. “I poured everything I had into it, especially because River is kind of the opposite of my true personality. But what I think is so special about watching the film is River’s relationships with those surrounding her.” 

Skye wanted the audience to experience River’s journey first hand, and to feel the connection the filmmaker and her lead have after seven years of working together. The pair achieved a front-row seat to River’s unraveling through the use of voice-over.

“I wanted to make it feel like a diary. I wanted the audience to get insight into the things she was thinking in certain moments.” During the editing process when Skye felt it wasn’t quite there yet, she reached out to Cameron so they could craft the voiceover together in post. “Actually, when we shot the short, I wrote journals on the journey of River’s life (as her) and what was going on with her to get in that space, and we used some of that. And writing as her I felt connected to what she was going through. I think it really helped bring her alive in the film.”

River is interesting in that it remains compelling even though the title character often doesn't drive the story. Much of that engine is given to supporting character (and River’s best friend) Amanda (Alexandra Rose), whose obsession with River’s well-being, whereabouts and general state of mind borders on creepy. But Rose does a good job of riding the line of concerned bestie, while possibly yearning for much more than River can give.

Skye again states much of this is pulled from personal experience: “There’s that side of me, as well. All things that I’ve experienced and gone through, and then not receiving it back. There are these little pieces of me and so many people I have known. Alex just really nailed this person in a really fun way.” Rose is the one to watch as she carries the third act as Amanda in a surprising new direction.  

Skye comes by her love of sci-fi honestly. When asked if she believes in the supernatural, there was no question: “I absolutely do. I’ve actually encountered UFOs since I was a small child. I’ve seen many things that are very hard to explain… I believe we are not alone in this world. It’s too grand just to be us.”

Skye’s River undoubtedly experiences the unexplained, but her experiences are too rich to give away here. Skye wanted River’s environment to feel rich and lush, traveling to North Carolina to ensure the look she wanted was achieved.

“It’s such a beautiful place to set a grounded sci-fi. I spent a long time looking for locations: The treehouse, Ruffin’s Roost, River’s mother’s house with all the antiques and knickknacks. I really love them all. I wanted that lush environment for River to also feel disconnected — away from a city — and I think we got that.” 

River often poses more questions in lieu of offering answers, but there is still much to take away from River’s journey. “I want audiences to know it’s ok to face yourself… At the end of the day, this movie is about facing your fears and going into the unknown. The unknown is scary. Who wants to look at themselves truly and accept who they are? At the end of the day we have to make that decision, and take a leap or stay complacent. What are you gonna do? Take that risk or stay where you are?”

River takes the risk, and for audiences, it’s a journey worth taking with her.

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