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Short Takes: Take Me to the River

(Matt Sobel, U.S., 2015)

Matt Sobel’s Take Me to the River opens with Californian teenager Ryder (Logan Miller) begrudgingly agreeing to his mother’s request not to discuss his sexuality while they visit their extended family in rural Nebraska. Not that he closets himself all that well: unabashedly sporting flashy yellow sunglasses and the shortest red shorts he can find, Ryder seems unperturbed by the judgmental looks that greet his every move. That is, until a game of “chicken fighting” with his young niece Molly (Ursula Parker) at a nearby barn—which Sobel cannily keeps off screen—leaves alarming blood stains on her dress, and the tacit suggestion of sexual assault in the air.

That suspicion becomes the central point of contention between Molly’s father Keith (Josh Hamilton), who demands answers, and his sister Cindy (Robin Weigert), who improbably refuses to resolve the issue by discussing her son’s homosexuality. Despite the Nebraska setting, the film’s sticky summer weather and increasingly oppressive atmosphere bear hints of Southern Gothic that make even outward displays of friendly attention—Uncle Keith offering to teach Ryder how to shoot a gun, Molly suggesting she and Ryder go swimming—feel unnervingly like threats.

The sense of looming danger, couched in pregnant pauses and furtive looks, explodes in Sobel’s third-act reveal. Muddying its murky moral center, the film confirms its promise as a disquieting dissection of sexual precocity and family dysfunction.