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Film / River's Edge

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A 1986 teen crime drama film directed by Tim Hunter and starring Keanu Reeves, Crispin Glover, Ione Skye, and Dennis Hopper, River's Edge depicts a group of high school friends who realize that they are in the presence of a murderer.

John (Daniel Roebuck) shows up at school and tells his friends that he 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 (Glover) plan to protect John since "Jamie's dead but John's still alive." This still doesn't sit well with Clarissa (Skye) or Matt (Reeves), 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
    • When the teenagers are discussing running away to Portland, Tony mentions they can travel america like the characters in 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.
  • Anti-Villain: Layne, who tries to preserve the existence of the group and get everyone else acting by the intragroup rules.
  • 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 Determinator: Layne who is unstoppable trying to protect his friend.
  • 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 '80s: Slightly subverted. The fashion sense and behaviors have more in common with the Grunge movement of The '90s. 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".
  • Foreshadowing Subverted. In the end kids in the group say that each of them can be killed this day. At this moment Tim, Matt's brother is still at large and with the gun intending to kill Matt. In the end he doesn't go through with it.
  • 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.
  • Hippie Teacher: Interestingly zigzagged with Mr. Burkewaite who appears in this film twice.
    • First in the beginning he delivers a speech about the progress made by the US society due to the 60's Civil rights movement in 60's.
    • Then it the ending he somewhat too energetically reprimands the students for not caring about the death of their mate. He reproaches both those students who did not report the murderer as well as the rest the class. He finishes his diatribe with the remark than all pupils do not care about the death of their classmate as if they did they'd be out on the street hunting down John. Thus becoming a proponent of vigilantism and posses no less.
  • 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.
  • Large Ham: Layne played by Crispin Glover. To call his ways in this film overacting would be an understatement.
  • Oh, Crap!: When Tim sees that Matt knows Tim destroyed the monument to their sister's doll.
  • Poking Dead Things with a Stick: John tells Matt and Layne about the horrible crime he had committed and shows them to the riverside where he left his girlfriend's nude corpse to prove it. Layne's first instinct when he sees the body is to pick up a nearby stick and poke it at the hip. Later, when Layne is telling more of his teenage peers about the dead body, he swears it was real because he poked it with a stick.
  • 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 shows no remorse for killing his girlfriend and stripping her corpse.
    • 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: John kills his girlfriend, brags about it to his friends, shows them his girlfriend's body, and his peers don't even do anything. One even attempts to help get rid of the body.
  • 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.