Directed by Lorenzo Bianchini
Distributed by Monster Pictures UK
Lorenzo Bianchini’s Across the River follows Marco (Marchese), an Ethologist performing a wildlife census in remote woodland close to the Italy/Slovenia border. Investigating the whereabouts of an animal which he has electronically tagged, Marco finds himself wandering into the dilapidated, abandoned village of Fruili, where he encounters a savagely mutilated wild pig. Later, the appearance of two ghostly-looking figures on footage from one of his static night-vision cameras stationed in the forest sees him delve deeper into the crumbling village on a mission to solve the mystery of just what is creeping around in these deep, dark woods.
As per usual for our beloved genre, this is of course a very bad idea and Marco soon finds himself stranded â€“ trapped in the decrepit township by a perpetual rainfall which sees him hopelessly separated from his RV by rising waters and forced to hunker down in his unsettling new surrounds. The problem there is that it quickly becomes apparent that he isn’t alone â€“ there are most definitely remaining denizens in the village of Fruili, and through some simultaneously unfolding back story, we come to learn that they most certainly aren’t friendly. As the authorities close in with a search and rescue attempt for our animal-loving protagonist, his persistent curiosity brings him ever closer to the promise of a brutal death.
Reviewing Across the River is an exercise in extreme frustration for the devoted horror critic: Bianchini’s film oozes atmosphere; very early on, an overbearing creepiness and palpable sense of gripping tension starts up, and simply doesn’t stop. Almost every single scene throbs with unseen threat, the outstanding sound design and atmospheric, skin-crawling score by Stefano Sciascia working their tandem magic to keep your nerves constantly on edge. That’s no mean feat considering Marco himself has almost no dialogue for the entire film, with Marchese left to sell himself to the audience through mere physicality and facial expression. You just don’t know when, and if, something is suddenly going to make its presence overtly obvious; make no mistake, Across the River can be one damned scary piece of work.
The big problem here is that conjuring up a consistently frightening atmosphere is about all that Bianchini has to offer with his film. Almost the entire narrative consists of little more than Marco trudging around forests or poking around old buildings while being startled by strange noises. The pacing is glacial, and while the slow, controlled nature of Bianchini’s structure is admirably oppressive and unnerving, it doesn’t take too long before you’re wishing for something â€“ anything â€“ to actually happen that will make a concrete story out of this. A subplot involving a local old couple feels clumsy â€“ shoe-horned in only to provide some explanation towards the antagonistic entities residing in Fruili â€“ and ultimately offers very few of the answers it appears to think it does. As the film approaches the final stretch and seems set to deliver the final wave of heart-pounding frights it’s been building to, Bianchini instead makes the decision to feature Marco’s murderous adversaries in moments that are poorly integrated, confusingly edited and wholly ineffective. The entire experience feels much like being in the thrall of someone slowly and methodically winding up a jack-in-the-box that’s playing the creepiest tune you’ve ever heard… but instead of anything actually happening after an inordinate amount of time, they simply squeeze out a little fart and then ask you to leave.
Across the River is an exemplary exercise in atmosphere, but there simply isn’t enough going on here to make it a truly worthwhile experience. It’s a rare (and sad) thing indeed that a film so genuinely scary is also one that just can’t really be particularly recommended.
Included in the special features on Monster Picturesâ€™ release is a 25-minute “making of”/extended interview with the director, highlighting some very clever use of location during the shoot, and “A Night with Friends”: a short film directed by Across the River DP Daniele Trani, sporting a brief introduction by Bianchini (who acted as Key Grip). It isnâ€™t one of the more impressive shorts youâ€™re likely to see, focusing on little more than some rather tedious, ire-baiting dialogue between two highly misogynistic pals on a night out enjoying a little murder and rape; in that order, and with the same young woman.
Itâ€™s unpleasant â€“ but transparently so, and is thus rather obvious in its repeatedly failed attempts to shock. The trailer for Across the River brings the package to a close.
2 out of 5
2 1/2 out of 5