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SUSPICIOUS RIVER (director/writer: Lynne Stopkewich; screenwriter: from the book by Laura Kasischke; cinematographer: Gregory Middleton; editor: Allan Lee; music: Don MacDonald; cast: Molly Parker (Leila Murray), Callum Keith Rennie (Gary Jensen), Mary Kate Welsh (Young girl), Joel Bissonnette (Rick Schmidt), Deanna Milligan (Millie), Sarah-Jane Redmond (Bonnie, the mother), Norman Armour (Jack, the father), Byron Lucas (Uncle Andy), Michael Shanks (Ball cap man); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Raymond Massey; Keyfilms; 2000-Canada)
“Edging more towards softcore porn than art.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Vancouver writer-director Lynne Stopkewich’s (“Kissed”) disturbing and lugubrious psycho-sexual drama is based on a novel by U.S. writer Laura Kasischke. It raises lots of questions about what drives a young unhappily married woman, Leila Murray (Molly Parker), to become so indifferent that she becomes self-destructive. But the film can only deliver pat psycho-babble answers after leading the viewer down a trashy discovery path.

Leila is a receptionist in an out of the way riverside motel who prostitutes herself for sixty dollars a pop to the mostly traveling salesmen guests. She does it not just for the money–but because she has deep psychological issues that compel her to relieve her boredom this way. We know of her deep-rooted problems because there are continuous flashbacks of Leila’s tormented childhood in a parallel running story, where her mom was screwing the brutish Uncle Andy in her presence while daddy was at work. Mom,unfortunately, ended up being brutally murdered by Uncle Andy.

Gary Jensen (Callum Keith Rennie) comes to the motel as a john. He hits Leila during their sexual encounter, but he balances this violence with sweet talk. Since Leila is indifferent to his physical abuse and indifferent to her passionless marriage with her nice guy hubby (Joel Bissonnette), she soon ends up in an affair with this brutish man who promises her a world of passion.

It was painful to see this unwise relationship as it unfolds, as it only offered a numbing predictable series of events that left no room but to wonder if poor Leila will survive in the hole she dug for herself or end up like mom. The film tended to be mired in its own doom and gloom. Though Molly Parker is a very talented actress, she can’t take this film out of the doldrums and those doldrums didn’t make my day any brighter or open my eyes any wider. Ms. Parker is trapped in a role where she must act without emotion, and the awkwardly done story was edging more towards softcore porn than art.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”