Film geeks, by their very nature, are interested in all facets of our cultural landscape. It comes from an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and it draws us to any and every obscure niche community that we ever hear about. A common trend that I have noticed amongst my fellow film geeks recently is our familiarity with, and love for, pro-wrestling. Wrestling from the eighties and nineties in particular seems to be a hot commodity as far as references go amongst many of my fellow blogging film geek friends, as it isn’t a totally uncommon thing to spot a NWO (a wrestling stable from the former WCW wrestling promotion during the nineties) reference in the middle of any post. Many of us grew up watching wrestling and appreciate it for the truly American art form that it most certainly is. Tragically overseen and disturbingly glamorized in today’s new "sports entertainment" world, the one aspect about pro-wrestling that has never changed has been its reliance on charisma from the main performers. As athletic and physical as the sport may be, if a wrestler can’t manipulate the crowd, then what is he? River of Darkness is not a wrestling movie per-se, but it does feature many current and former wrestlers throughout its cast and no doubt that is how the film will be marketed, but if one comes into this film expecting charismatic performances and audience manipulation, then I am sure they will leave disappointed.
In a small riverside town, Will Logan (Kurt Angle) has recently taken over as the Sheriff in charge. Although it seems like a dream come true for Will, the locals are giving him a bit of a hard time. Before he can even situate himself and get used to his boots, bodies begin to turn up in this small unpopulated area. He and his deputy stumbles upon a mutilated body that has been adorned with the word "HIX" across the chest. As Logan begins to search around town for answers, he finds that the locals are all very tight lipped on this situation. He is ultimately told about Harvey Hix, a village outcast who takes up space in a small rundown cottage far away from civilization. It turns out that Harvey Hix helped kill off the Jacobs brothers, who were the most hated men in town when they were accused of assaulting a young woman. Now it seems that the Jacobs brothers are back for revenge and they plan to hunt down old man Harvey and give him a dose of his own medicine. Can Logan somehow put an end to this supernatural war before more innocent civilians turn up dead?
There have been wrestling stars who have easily made the transition into film acting. Duane "The Rock" Johnson comes to mind, as does "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. However, River of Darkness doesn’t prove to be a tremendous stepping stone for any of the professional wrestlers involved. A project built around former Olympic gold medalist and professional wrestling giant Kurt Angle, the lack of a professional and guiding hand ultimately hinders the project from being anything overly spectacular or impressive. In fact, River of Darkness proves to be far from that. Following a rather generic story of revenge from beyond the grave, River of Darkness doesn’t deliver in any one given area in a way that might cause film fans to stand up and announce its arrival to the world. Since there is little to no gore involved, the entire basis of its entertainment is going to rely on two areas: the performances and the suspense. As I have already alluded, the performances here are far away from being spectacular, and as far as the suspense goes… this too is a let down. A major problem with River of Darkness comes from the editing, an area that not many viewers will notice in the majority of motion pictures but in the case of this one I think even the layman might pick up on the issues involved. Many reaction shots throughout the majority of the picture seem to come too late, too early or even feature moments before an actor starts to "emote". For example, in a shot where Kurt Angle is supposed to show off a look of disgust, you might see the actor staring listlessly into the air as he awaits the directors call for "action!" We get the awkward pause before his reaction, as well as the awkward pause afterward where he seems to go back to staring listlessly into the abyss.
A mix of genre cliches and conventions, River of Darkness at its best offers up some decent atmosphere. If I can think of any one claim the movie may have, this might be it. The small Cajun-country setting for the film really works and although the general look of the movie production-wise doesn’t help things, the setting is admirable. As far as the cast goes, most seem to disappoint. Kevin Nash and Sid Vicious both have roles that don’t really require any dialogue (Specifically: Kevin Nash has one line, Sid has none), and Kurt Angle is all kinds of stilted. Ray Lloyd (who wrestled as Glacier in WCW during the 90’s) is the one member of the cast who seems to at least put in a performance that I could say was relatively decent. With big stars, bad acting, laughable special effects and a general air of amateurish quality, one might expect River of Darkness to be a top notch deliverer of cheese. Well, for some that might turn out to be the case. For this guy, who actually is a wrestling fan, I can’t say that turned out to be the case. I think a movie such as this will speak to a very specific audience and they know precisely who they are. Wrestling devotees who love b-cinema are going to track this one down regardless of what I say!