Cinema/TV, Film Notes

FrightFest review – River

FrightFest review – River (2023)

One of the breakout genre successes of recent years was Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes, directed by Junta Yamaguchi from a script by Makoto Ueda.  Their follow-up River is also about a two-minute timeslip, though here it’s a loop rather than a fold – you’d think this would be a limiting sub-genre, but of course it’s infinite.  As before the reasons for time going out of joint are less important than the effects, but when we get an explanation – which has a certain Dr Whoiness to it – there’s an elegant sense of this film being brought into the same universe as Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes, policed by a well-intentioned but slightly blundering Time Patrol.  Just as the film explores the possibilities of a time loop, it’s possible that the two Yamaguchi-Ueda movies so far could form the foundation of a saga-like franchise of microbudget miniatures.  The dyptich have all the smarts of Primer or Looper, but also a generosity of spirit which is especially welcome in a FrightFest context.  I assume these movies get on the discovery screen because they’re not strictly horror, but there’s grit to the whimsical fantasy … threat, even … and the films’ charm is much-needed alongside a diet of tied-up-in-the-basement-and-tortured movies.

The setting is an inn in Kibune, Kyoto – a resort dedicated to relaxation, with a few stray guests in residence even as the town is basically closing for the winter.  Mikoto (Riko Fujitani), a kimono-clad waitress, is called from a quiet moment of contemplation by a shallow stream (the river of the title) to help clean a room with another employee … then has déjà vu as she goes through the same thing again, with her co-worker also feeling the same … then finds herself back by the river, every two minutes, repeating, as everyone in the immediate vicinity experiences the loop.  Yes, it’s a fraction of a Groundhog Day, but with the new wrinkle that it’s not just the protagonist who realises they’re repeating.  Everyone knows they’re going through this, and some are frustrated – the guy in the shower who can never get the shampoo out of his hair – while others feel liberated – the novelist who finds his tough deadline doesn’t matter any more.  Mikoto suspects she may have kicked all this off because her boyfriend has let slip he wants to go to France for ten years to study French cuisine – but others similarly feel their own quandaries could have caused time to jump the tracks.

Each loop is a two-minute take, beginning with Mikoto by the river – a side effect of the time distortion is that the weather changes, with snow falling more and more, hampering repeats – and then having to bustle upstairs, across the road, over the river or to the kitchens to wherever the action is this time, with a certain amount of time off for slacking or exhaustion.  It’s a tight eighty-six minutes, which is a good thing because the premise is inherently an exercise in tantalising frustration as more and more complicated actions have to be carried out in a brief spell.  We get a cross-section of characters – all well-intentioned, intelligent enough to keep up with the premise, mostly kind – and a wide range of interactions between them.  Some are funny, some are sweet, some are darker-tinged.  It’s a film full of tiny little relishable moments and ideas and also a study of a subject rarely treated in cinema – the need to take some time off and sit still, looking at the babbling brook, not even thinking about much in order not to go crazy.  Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes had a rough-around-the-edges found footage look – though it also spent a lot of time following people running up and down stairs – but River goes for a more calming, almost classical look … it’s hand-held and bustling, but we have a feel for the relaxing, gentle surroundings.

Here’s the FrightFest listing.




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