Film: River's Edge

A 1986 teen drama film starring Keanu Reeves, Crispin Glover, Ione Skye, and Dennis Hopper. Depicts a group of high school friends who realize that they are in the presence of a murderer.

John shows up at school and tells his friends that he had killed his girlfriend Jamie. At first none of the other teens believe him... until he shows them Jamie's corpse left for days along the river's edge. The teen group then argues over what to do, finally settling on Layne's plan to protect John since "Jamie's dead but John's still alive." It still doesn't settle well with Clarissa or Matt, and things get worse when the cops are finally told about Jamie's murder. Now Layne has a plan to hide John out somewhere while he goes and hunts down the one he thinks ratted John out...


This film provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: Feck talks briefly about how he was a biker years previously. The actor, Dennis Hopper, gained fame for his role in the classic biker flick Easy Rider
  • Adults Are Useless: Barely any show up, and the ones who do either don't get it or refuse to. The only adult with any understanding is Feck... and he's a drug-dealing fugitive who resolves the matter by killing the teen he'd been asked to help.
  • Ax-Crazy: John.
    • Subverted with Feck. At first he seems to be this, but by the end of the movie we see that he's one of the more sane characters.
  • Broken Pedestal: Clarissa realizes that her teacher is an asshole after he goes on a rant about the murder. Until that point, she had idolized him.
  • Deadpan Snarker: This exchange:
    Man: So, you helped John, Sampson push the body into the river.
    Matt: Yeah, after I helped him kill her.
  • The Ditz: Maggie
  • Downer Ending: Feck kills John, both to spare the teen from prison and because Feck realizes the boy is becoming a monster. In a twist, Feck is last seen getting arrested with the implication that he's actually looking forward to it, knowing he had done the right thing killing John as well as finally answering for killing his own girlfriend decades earlier.
  • Dramatic Irony: In one scene Layne tells Matt how he JUST KNOWS that Mike was the one to rat on John. Matt was actually the rat
    • Layne even sarcastically suggests that Matt was the rat.
  • Drunk Driver: Both Layne and John drink while driving.
  • The Eighties: Slightly subverted. The fashion sense and behaviors have more in common with the Grunge movement of The Nineties. Given the setting as the Pacific Northwest, this was probably unavoidable.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Not his mother, but his aunt (who seems to be suffering from some sort of mental disability). Upon seeing that the cops are at his doorstep, John's only reaction is "I hope they don't upset Aunto".
  • Grey and Gray Morality
  • Hidden Depths: Despite being a killer and apparently crazy, Feck is remorseful after having killed a girl twenty years prior to the movie taking place. It is obvious that he's not really all that proud of it, and he is bothered by it.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Matt reprimands his little sister for saying "Damn". He then promptly says "Shit".
  • Karma Houdini: even though the police know that he was an accomplice to murder, even more so than the rest of the kids, Layne faces no punishment for going out of his way to protect John.
  • Mercy Kill
  • Moral Dissonance: In-story. The teens aren't sure what to do when confronted with the death of one of their friends at the hands of another friend. All except for Layne, who slowly demonstrates he's got few morals at all.
  • Oh, Crap: When Tim sees that Matt knows Tim destroyed the monument to their sister's doll.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Feck's execution of John made all of Layne's efforts worthless. Nothing else really happens or gets resolved at the end, except for the teens attending two funerals for two dead friends.
  • The Soulless: John.
    • Tim would also qualify, as he shows no empathy whatsoever, for anyone. He goes out of his way to traumatize his little sister.
  • The Stoner: Matt. While all of the kids smoke pot at least once in the film, Matt is the only one that is an out and out "stoner".
  • Take That: It takes the pop cheeriness of the John Hughes teen films of that era and nukes them from orbit. It's bleaker than Heathers.
  • Teens Are Monsters
  • True Companions: How Layne views the group. No one else seems to think so. They start to fall apart without Jamie.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Based on what happened in 1981 to Marcy Renee Conrad.