The River Within (Stroomop) (2019)
The River Within (Stroomop) (2019)

Genre: Adventure and Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 46 min.

Release Date: April 5th, 2019 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Ivan Botha Actors: DonnaLee Roberts, Simone Nortmann, Ilse Klink, Chanelle de Jager, Carla Classen, Armand Aucamp, Elize Cawood




r. Lana Marais (DonnaLee Roberts) was supposed to take 48 hours off, but she can’t seem to tear herself away from a specific patient – a young woman who attempted suicide. Mere seconds after dropping off some flowers, a fresh car crash victim soaks up her attention (or so it would seem; in actuality, she’s having recurring visions of older medical emergencies). Despite occasionally succumbing to muscle tremors – side effects of severe PTSD – Marais continues to find herself in the operating room, which is incredibly troubling when she attempts to firmly grasp a scalpel. The hospital’s board sentences her to three months of compulsory therapy, where psychiatrist Dr. Ezra (Elize Cawood) hopes to restore the surgeon’s calm.

Once Lana is placed in a circle of similarly suffering women, she begins to loosen up. Through flashbacks, the various patients relate their stories, including Vivian (Simone Nortmann), coping with a shortage of serotonin and severe depression; flourishing lawyer Diona (Ilse Klink), struggling with guilt over her perceived failures as a wife and mother; and Adrie (Chanelle de Jager), dealing with a negative body image (fueled by social media), a difficult dieting regimen (and possible eating disorder), and fatigue from raising three children. When the group is recommended an uncommon experience – a South African Adventure Therapy, designed to facilitate discovering their inner strengths, expanding their limits, facing their fears, and taking them out of their comfort zones – Lana is instantly skeptical. But sure enough, just as the jeep is about to depart for a five-day journey, Marais turns up, reluctantly acquiescing to Ezra’s insistence on participation.

“What’s the worst that could happen?” Driver Smiles (Batsile Ramasodi) takes them to their starting point, where internet connectivity finally cuts out completely. The thrill-seeking ladies, also including Diona’s daughter, Nixie (Carla Classen), are joined by tour guide Guy (Armand Aucamp), who introduces them to the Orange River, where rafting – through rapids, no doubt – will lead to an eventual camping site. They may be in the most desolate part of the country, but it’s bright, beautiful, and serene as they casually paddle through the initially still waters.

Intrusive – and unnecessary – flashbacks continue, detailing pieces of personal lives that have contributed to the women’s psychological obstacles. It’s disappointing that viewers can’t learn about these characters solely through conversations and actions, as the frequent cutting away from the present is oftentimes more distracting than informative. Also problematic are the individual quandaries themselves, as they’re terribly generic and uninspired; they may be realistic, widespread concerns that routinely appear in therapeutic institutions, but they aren’t striking subjects for a theatrical film.

The drama serves primarily as bonding, team-building, and self-discovery undertakings, in the vein of “City Slickers,” though things grow annoying when, during the very first glimpse of genuine excitement (nearly 40 minutes in), the group’s infighting leads to a catastrophe. These novices aren’t concerned with rules or safety, which stirs up only feelings of contempt. When viewers begin to hope that these witless amateurs perish in the wilderness, it doesn’t bode well for the picture’s success. At one point, as Nixie throws a childish tantrum, she trips and hits her head – perhaps a believable yet nonetheless incredibly dimwitted maneuver, which musters even less respect or admiration. Losses of control are tough; but for these damaged souls, there’s an embarrassing, immediate dwindling of composure; they’re a far cry from the adventurers in “Deliverance.” Even Lana views her compatriots as pathetic.

As they swim and hike and climb, trekking through uninhabited wastelands and the merciless heat, the film never presents a sense that the protagonists could actually succumb to their unforgiving environment. Without this worry, no worthwhile anticipation or tension exists. Yet again, “Stroomop” reveals itself to be a blandly character-driven, featherweight drama, and not a rip-roaring (or even mildly suspenseful) adventure. Thankfully, it isn’t all a setup, just to manipulate the women into cooperation; they are indeed forced to fend for themselves in the wild. But the overlong runtime, the largely uninteresting personas, and some extremely suspect, revelatory coincidences sap the energy from the survivalist scenarios.

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10