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Film / The River Wild

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The River Wild is a 1994 American thriller film directed by Curtis Hanson and starring Meryl Streep, Kevin Bacon, David Strathairn, John C. Reilly, and Joseph Mazzello. The story involves a family on a whitewater rafting trip who encounter two violent criminals in the wilderness.

Tropes included:

  • Ax-Crazy: Wade. Like most real life psychopaths he at first he's very good at hiding it. Once his true nature is exposed he reveals himself to be a merciless murderer.
  • Bond One-Liner: "He got to ride 'The Gauntlet' after all."
  • Chekhov's Gun: Because Gail's dad is deaf, the whole family knows sign language. Tom draws signs on a trunk visible from the river, which tips Roarke and Gail off.
  • Counting Bullets: Wade only got to reload his revolver once before his ammo is thrown overboard. In the end, he's surprised his gun is empty when Gail attempts to shoot him.
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  • The Dragon: Terry reluctantly goes along with Wade's leadership.
  • Defensive Failure: Subverted- Wade tries to kill Gail after she chooses to fire what he thinks is the pistol's last bullet into the air instead of shooting him. However, when she pulls the trigger the gun goes "click" and doesn't fire, he thought there was one round left too and assumes it's empty. It wasn't. She kills him with the actual last one.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Wade. As soon as he's unmasked, he drops the friendly facade.
    Wade: I am a nice guy. Just a different kind of nice guy.
  • Hands-On Approach: Tom isn't quite amused to watch his wife teach Wade to flyfish.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: At the climax of the film, Gail kills Wade with the very same gun he was using against them for the duration of the movie.
  • Idiot Ball: Wade murders Ranger Johnny, but fails to take his gun despite only having 2 bullets left.
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  • Insistent Terminology: Tom doesn't make sketches, he makes designs.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • Wade attempts to shoot the family's dog during the film because he considers it expendable. The dog gets away unharmed.
    • Wade slaps Roarke (a small kid) for having told his parents about his gun.
  • Killed Offscreen: Wade murders Frank offscreen. As he was Wade and Terry’s guide, this results in Wade taking the Hartmans hostage.
  • Married to the Job: Tom is obsessed with his designs. Gail complains that he spends no time with her or their son. He works most weekends.
  • Meaningful Name: Wade can't swim...
  • Oh, Crap!: A particularly gratifying one when Wade discovers Gail faked the gun being empty, just after he gave the order to kill the whole family.
  • Outdoor Bath Peeping: A really creepy-looking Wade watches Gail as she takes a bath in the river naked.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Terry, as he at times contests Wade's method.
  • Red Herring: Roarke takes pictures of Wade and others and throws his camera in the river to keep it away from Wade. Johnny finds it... and returns it to them. Wade smashes it to pieces.
  • Scenery Porn: The riverside and the mountains in the background are gorgeous.
  • The Sociopath: Wade kills people without remorse, even joking about it at some point, and everyone, his followers included, are just pawns he uses for his personal gain.
  • Secret Test of Character: Gail fakes being out of bullets when holding Wade at gunpoint after surviving the Gauntlet, so she can see how he reacts.
  • Skinny Dipping: Gail takes a bath in the river naked.
  • The Starscream: According to Gail, Frank might have been planning to pull this on Wade and Terry before he got wounded.
  • Villain Ball: When Wade thinks Gail's gun is empty, he instantly decides to kill them all out of spite. As it turns out the gun is not entirely empty.
  • Wasn't That Fun?: After riding and surviving the feared "Gauntlet" with no injuries.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Wade outright orders Terry to kill both Tom and Roarke after finding that Gail has no bullets in the gun. Or so he thought.