River Wild is an adventure thriller film that is reportedly a sequel or reboot to 1994 film of the same name, even though the plot style and the overall tone of the 2023 version arguably differ a lot from the previous one. The plot here follows a doctor named Joey as she reunites with her elder brother Gray during a rafting expedition when a common friend from their younger days starts to stir up trouble. With the central idea of human problems playing out in front of wild, unfettered nature, River Wild is visually satisfying and enjoyable, even though the story might not convince everyone.
Plot Summary: What is the Film about?
River Wild begins with the protagonist, a doctor named Joey, driving through forest-covered roads as she seemingly travels away from her city life into thicker nature. As Joey speaks with her boyfriend, James, over the phone, it is revealed that she is going to meet with her brother, possibly after a considerable period of time. James mentions looking at houses, meaning that the couple has decided to move in with each other, but Joey is not too interested in such a conversation at the time. As she arrives at a lakeside camp and finally meets with her brother, Gray, it is revealed that the man runs a wildlife adventure company. As part of this business, Gray is soon about to embark on a rafting expedition with his two clients, Karissa and Van, and Joey has also agreed to tag along.
As introductions are made, Karissa and Van refer to the other man who is also joining them on the expedition, Trevor, and Joey is evidently shocked. As Trevor then comes into the scene and meets up with Joey, it is revealed that the man had been imprisoned for some crime only till a couple years ago. Trevor mentions that Gray had given him the opportunity to start his life afresh, all while others still perceived him as a felon. Gray had arranged some work for the younger Trevor, and when the latter heard that Joey was coming down for the trip, he decided to join them too.
As the rafting adventure begins, Joey still looks slightly out of place, while Karissa and Van gel up with the two men, despite this being their first meeting. There is something clearly upsetting Joey, but she, too, eventually opens up and starts to enjoy herself. As evening falls, the group takes a break to camp at a spot inside the forest, making merry with drinks and each other’s company. Gray refuses to drink owing to the fact that he is going through sobriety, and he seems romantically interested in his client Karissa. But his night, along with everyone else’s, soon starts to turn into a nightmare when Van is gravely injured, apparently from an accidental fall.
What was the reason for Joey’s earlier discomfort?
When the rest of the group rushes in to check on Van’s situation, she keeps saying that nothing serious has happened to her. The woman had gone to relieve herself in the woods, and Trevor had followed her, too, when the accident took place. Trevor states that Van had stumbled and fallen backward on a big piece of rock, suffering an immediate skull fracture because of this. However, when the two men head back towards the camp in order to fetch first aid, Van tells Karissa and Joey a different story altogether. In the very brief moment that she gets with them, Van reveals that Trevor had actually grabbed her from behind, with all the ill intentions one can think of. The woman had seemingly fought back and had either suffered the fall and fracture as a result of the scuffle, or it could even be that the man had actually injured her.
Although the exact details of this incident are not revealed or discussed later on, it becomes very clear that it was Trevor who was the reason for Van’s injury. Based on how the man’s character has been portrayed since the beginning of the film and also for the rest of it, it is indeed very possible that Trevor intentionally pushed her down when she fought against his sexual advances. Not only was he drunk at the time, but Trevor, in fact, had a history of being a sexual predator. In fact, this was the very reason Joey felt extremely uncomfortable and out of place when she first found out that Trevor would also accompany them on the rafting trip. When Joey was just fifteen years old, she was forced upon by Trevor during one of the adventure outings that she would often go on with her brother and his friends.
Joey had no desire to get intimate with Trevor, and as she admits, the girl was not even of an age to be interested in such stuff. However, the worst part about this incident was that Gray knew about it, or at least the fact that the two had gotten intimate on that occasion. It was Gray who had ensured that such a moment had been possible, for it was he who had arranged for Trevor to get some time alone with Joey. The sister could not believe what her own brother had agreed to for her, and she had been left scarred by this incident for the rest of her life. To Joey, it had been imprinted on her mind that her brother had made use of her as a pawn to give to Trevor so that his own bond with Trevor would get stronger. When Joey later confronts Gray with this, the brother states that he had no idea that whatever happened was forceful, as he believed that Joey was always romantically interested in Trevor.
Towards the beginning of River Wild, during her phone conversation with the boyfriend, James tells Joey to run away from the place if she hears a banjo playing, right after he talks about Gray. Although James says this in a joking manner, the meaning of this statement is never really explained by the film. But since there is no other reason mentioned and Joey has so much deep-rooted resentment against Gray for what happened, this could mean an even worse situation. If we are to interpret it that way, then it could be that while Trevor had been violating Joey’s body inside the cabin during their teenage years, Gray was playing a banjo sitting outside, as if nothing wrong or strange was going on in the world.
This possibility would also be heavily based on the fact that Joey had actually shared this incident with her boyfriend, James. However, the possibility of her not having shared this with anyone, even her boyfriend, is also equally present. When asked about her boyfriend and their relationship, Joey does not look very excited or affected, which is exactly how her demeanor had been when James had called her at the beginning of the film. It is almost like Joey doesn’t really want to be with James but is only bearing with him just to have someone in her life. It is almost as if the horrible experience she had during her teenage years has scarred Joey against any man or intimacy in life, and she equally despises such moments with James, leading to a sort of decaying relationship, at least from her side. It is only at the very end of River Wild that Joey finally seems to be over this mental barrier of hers, and she tells the medics that she would like someone to be contacted for her. While we are not directly told who this someone would be, it is almost certain that she would tell the authorities to contact James.
What was the reason for Trevor’s prison sentence?
As the plot in River Wild progresses, Trevor really sheds the false appearance of an apparently wronged victim and turns into the devilish criminal that he actually is. He gets concerned about whether Van had told the others about what had actually happened and also starts to act accordingly, trying to hide his crime. The group first has to make their way toward the forest ranger’s station, and Van’s condition gradually worsens. When they finally reach the ranger’s station, though, Trevor refuses to let the man call for help and a medical helicopter, fearing that Van would tell everyone about what he had tried with her. Instead, he prefers the woman to just die out in the forest, and in order to ensure this, he ends up stabbing the ranger dead. Now Trevor has to hide one more crime, and together with Gray’s help, he stages an accident with the ranger and his car.
With a murder now committed by him, Trevor turns completely rogue, taking hold of the ranger’s gun and threatening the rest of the group to adhere to his orders. The man wants to flee the US altogether and cross into Canada through a part of the river where there are no guards on either side of the border. He believes that this would guarantee an escape from American law and pushes for this plan, which eventually results in Van’s death aboard the raft. A little while later, the group runs across a hitchhiker who spots something strange about them, and the man starts to follow the group. When they stop for the night, and everyone other than Trevor’s hands and legs is tied, this hiker tries to come to their rescue. But once again, Trevor gets alerted right in time, and he shoots the hiker dead, adding another victim to his list.
Throughout this whole time, Trevor was mostly supported by his close childhood friend, Gray, who does seem suspicious after a point. The real reason for this is soon revealed when we and the other characters are made aware of the reason behind Trevor’s prison sentence. Trevor had been arrested and imprisoned because he was a cocaine dealer, and it was for this that he had to serve a considerable sentence in jail. However, it was actually Gray who used to be a cocaine dealer, and Trevor was perhaps only slightly involved. After the police found out about this drug business, though, Trevor willingly volunteered to be punished for Gray’s crimes, for he always believed that his own life was rather pointless and empty. On the other hand, Gray had a family and a sister to look up to, along with a girlfriend he had at the time. Therefore, Trevor had sacrificed himself to save his dear friend, but now he had definitely committed two murders and a potential third one if we consider Van’s death.
What Happens to Joey, Gray, Karissa, And Trevor?
As the group continues to raft toward their destination, which is the Canadian border, Karissa cleverly punches a hole in the raft’s body to create a distraction. When Trevor orders Gray to fix this puncture, Gray makes use of this opportunity to grab the man and stop his devilish madness. Although Gray ultimately gets shot and gravely injured, his actions are enough to give Karissa and Joey the time to cut themselves loose and flee. While Karissa runs away into the woods, Joey returns to check on her brother and tries to help him out.
Joey does manage to get Gray up and onto their repaired raft, while Trevor tries to chase them down in a kayak, which he gets hold of after killing two men kayaking on the river. Joey takes her raft towards the most dangerous part of the river, assisted by Gray, who knows every part of the river very well because of his profession. In the end, though, the raft gets capsized, and the siblings find themselves in the harsh streams of the river. Joey finally manages to pull her brother out of the water, but then Trevor gets hold of her and is about to stab her. At this very time, Gray grabs Trevor from behind and pulls him into the river, killing the man and also himself in the process. Although it can be argued whether Gray redeems his actions from the past, the brother ultimately sacrifices his own life to protect his sister from the horrific predator.
As Joey lies alone by the side of the river, covered by dense forest, she has to treat her own injuries and even make a second wound in order to avoid serious complications because of the stab wound. During River Wild‘s ending, it is revealed that Karissa has reached help, and she returns to the place aboard a rescue helicopter, although it is not revealed how she found help in such a short time. The helicopter finally spots Joey and lands to rescue her, and the film ends with a final shot of Joey being assisted onto a medical stretcher, confirming that she is ultimately saved.