DON’T LET THE RIVERBEAST GET YOU
Directed by Charles Roxburgh
Shock Marathons/Motern Media/Goblin Universe
review by Haig Demarjian
Right from the DVD cover, which looks like an old VHS rental case (even down to the circular green horror sticker), I had a feeling that whoever was behind this sticky mess knew exactly what they were after and had their heart in the right place.
Neil Stuart, a study in over-restrained zeal by Matt Farley, returns from humiliating exile to Rivertown, USA. He’s back to re-claim his status as the town’s greatest… tutor. Yes, tutor. It seems that Rivertown, USA reveres educational mentoring to the point where it even has an official Ministry of Tutoring. The town is full of memorable characters—the oft-expelled Allie, her former-professional athlete father, Neil’s ex-fiancé Emmaline and her noxious new fiancé, among many others. The humor can be broad and at times may seem dumb, but details throughout serve to remind that Riverbeast is never dumb by accident. At one point, a subplot revolving around Neil’s duty to appear at his godcousin’s wedding is introduced—the inane gravity attributed to godfamily commitments left me laughing. Riverbeast revels in smart, appropriately-stilted wordplay and unexpected pleasures. Reverence for straight-to-VHS conventions keeps things grounded in a unique but familiar low-budget world.
It doesn’t hurt that the leading ladies are both girl-next-door lovelies. Neil’s lost love is a dead-ringer for Christina Applegate. Their performances are earnest and charmingly awkward. That may sound like a back-handed compliment, but it isn’t; it’s a totally front-handed one, administered with the sting of affection… and respect. All players give the best performance they possibly can and it’s clear that this is how Farley and Roxburgh want it. This movie manages to be inventive and successful in a very difficult arena—like any budget-constrained film, it’s loaded with unavoidable shortcomings, but Riverbeast embraces them, celebrates them, and impressively manages to forge a thorough sense of intentionality throughout. This movie is just the way it was supposed to be and just the way it should be.
That said, I owe it to myself to mention the one thing that truly bothered me: while I LOVED the creature’s unapologetic appearance, I wish that its reveal was a bit more deliberate; i.e. not show him in broad daylight from beginning to end. Early on, night attacks would have added another dimension to the film… AND might have allowed viewers the pleasure of discovering, glimpse-by-glimpse, the unique craftsmanship of the Riverbeast costume itself. However, this certainly didn’t diminish my overall enjoyment of the film. I just would love to see the production value automatically bumped up a few notches with the addition of night footage… and a slightly more menacing title monster.)
Is this movie everyone’s cup of tea? Absolutely not. You’re not a tea-drinker? Then I suggest you take a healthy gulp.
I found Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You! to be a refreshing, entertaining and heartfelt potion.
(I won’t even mention the fact that any movie whose title ends in an exclamation point tends to be awesome. Or will I?)