Updated: Aug 11, 2022
Remember those drug PSAs that were frequently shown in your middle school health class? Not only are they boring, but they also often don’t do justice when it comes to telling the dangers of prolonged drug use. Instead, they only pique people’s curiosity when it comes to drug use. This is why drugs frequently appear in both movies and TV shows, notably in critically acclaimed media such as Breaking Bad, Euphoria, Requiem for a Dream and more. Director Rob Willey's film River Road focuses on how quickly someone’s life can spiral out of control due to addiction.
Travis (played by Cody Kearsley) is a lead guitarist in a band who likes to spend his life partying complete with alcohol and party drugs such as cocaine. After deciding to turn his life around for the better, he meets a young woman named Zoe (played by Lexi Redman). The two hit things off from the start and through Zoe, Travis slowly becomes addicted to heroin. As the two continue to be together, with their love of heroin keeping their relationship intact, things soon spiral out of control for the two.
First off, the film is generally well shot. What really stuck out to me were the shots of Travis at the docks during the sunset. Something about the contrast of the background and shadowed trees added an extremely artistic touch to the film’s overall aesthetic. Speaking of aesthetics, the synth music was also a good choice to set up the tone. From the music alone, you get this sense of disorientation that should be present in a story like this. While our lead is a guitar player we oddly don’t get much guitar playing, outside of the first and early second act. Despite this, from what we did hear, the score did the job of establishing tone well and I would like to listen to a full version of the song Cody and his band mates were working on.
Throughout the film, I kept finding similarities with both Requiem for a Dream and Euphoria. When Travis and Zoe hit up heroin for the first time, the colors, atmosphere and cinematography coupled with Travis’s inner monologue strongly reminded me of Euphoria, particularly during the first season when Rue began doing drugs with Jules. Additionally, whenever Travis or Zoe shoot themselves up with heroin, the camera cuts to the pupil of their eye dilating. This scene alone parallels Requiem for a Dream during the scene where the characters shoot up heroin and briefly brought back horrifying memories. I’m just glad we didn’t have to hear the horrifying score from Darren Aronofsky’s classic.
Character-wise, I found both leads to be a bit unlikable. While both Cody Kearsley and Lexi Redman were amazing at portraying a dysfunctional drug-addicted couple, I didn’t particularly feel any sort of attachment to either character. This isn’t a bad thing, as I think it was the point of the film. However, what did throw me off was the cinematography for the chase scene in the third act and some of the dialogue for one of the major antagonists. The chase scene suffered from too much shaky-cam and fast cuts to the point where I had no idea what was going on. These techniques are often used to convey the speed and adrenaline that the characters are going through, but to me, I always found shaky-cam to be a deal breaker in action scenes. I want to see exactly what’s happening, and I wish more films kept the camera steady during action scenes. Meanwhile, some of the lines for one of the major antagonists felt like a fourteen year old trying to sound tough over Fortnite or Call of Duty.
Does this make the film bad? No. Despite the film’s flaws, it’s still a solid watch if you want to explore the dangers and consequences of drug addiction. Where River Road easily stands out is in its cinematography, music and overall story. Instead of those outdated drug PSAs schools force you to watch, they should instead show kids more realistic depictions of addiction and I think River Road should be one of those films.
Co-Written by: Owen Gonzalez