With Gorgeous Photography;
And Powerful Lead.
Man vs Nature. Man vs Fellow Man. Which theme sounds scarier?
In Styx, both are on vivid, thrilling display and the result is harrowing. Wolfgang Fischer’s refugee crisis-at-sea drama stars Susanne Wolff as Rike, a doctor taking some personal time to sail to Ascension Island, a remote piece of land in the middle of the South Atlantic that features an artificial ecosystem courtesy of Charles Darwin himself. As he is the father of Evolution Theory, this becomes especially relevant as we study the breakdown in human behavior once Rike discovers a shipwrecked boat teeming with refugees in desperate need of saving. Rike’s boat is far too small to take them on, so she radios for help. The tension quickly mounts as it becomes evident she is the only person who cares to see these people rescued.
It’s a very relevant film in today’s world and gets a lot of mileage out of the conversations about refugees and what should be done to help them. That it is set against the story of one woman out for the ultimate personal experience makes it even deeper. Here is someone who has no stake in the lives of these people and no true means to help them other than calling out to the Coast Guard, but she is willing to take some risks to give whatever aid she can, especially once a young boy jumps from his boat and swims to hers. She represents the good that we hope to see in others, her humanitarianism a beacon in a raging storm of the uncaring ways of the world. The opening shots feature primates wandering around a populated area (perhaps a species of baboon, but forgive me if I’m wrong on that one), a further hint at the evolutionary themes. It seems to be hinting that maybe we are not as advanced as we believe ourselves to be, once taken in context with the rest of the film. An early scene of a car accident carries a lot of weight as well. Shot from a high vantage point as emergency workers set up a perimeter, it says that we are quick to watch horror unfold from safety, assuming others will step in and give the help that we are unable or unwilling to contribute. Do we really care about others as much as we pretend to, if we don’t actually care for them?
Fischer does an amazing job shooting the film in ways that contrast isolation between both vast, empty spaces and tight, confined ones. It is beautifully shot, especially when the lens goes very wide, and more than a bit uneasy to sit through at times. But a story like this should make us uneasy, both visually and mentally, as we sympathize with the characters and imagine our own actions while in their shoes. Benedict Nuenfels has a great eye for the cinematography of the film and works with Fischer to create something that is a wonderful horror to observe, and even when much of the middle and final act take place on a small boat, it never feels repetitive. Wolff is great in her role, turning in a performance that is as emotionally powerful as it is physically demanding. She knows that she has to match the film’s thematic weight with her own, and is up to the challenge.
Styx is bleak, strong, unsettling and resonant. It gives its audience a lot to consider and pulls no punches, but the results are great.
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