• Maxwell J.

Duel on the River (CFF) is Crafty Indie Filmmaking Done Right

Title: Duel on the River

First Wide Release: TBD

Director: Isaac Rathé

Writer: Isaac Rathé

Runtime: 80 Minutes

Starring: Darius Rathé, Sam Biskey, Kitu Turcas

Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here (TBD)


This film’s review was written after its screening in the Chattanooga Film Festival 2021.


After his girlfriend breaks up with him for failing to take control of his life, Frank (Darius Rathé) finds himself compelled to by a kayak and paddle out into the Detroit River. Enjoying his newfound peace and calm, he tries to figure out what is next for him. Unfortunately for him, he has become the latest target of a deranged serial killer who gets his kicks by terrorizing people in kayaks from his boat. With nothing but the sheer desire to survive and grit it takes to take down a maniac on a power trip, Frank must finally take control if he wants to live.


Duel on the River is a surprisingly taut and bare-bones survival thriller that shows immense promise of its young team.

A very clearly microbudget venture that has a lot of heart, Duel on the River is a surprisingly brisk and engaging indie horror. The film has a very guerrilla style to it which I dug. It’s choppy and unfocused just like the water in the Detroit River. That is the fun of it though. It has an outlandish premise and must work within the constraints to make something exciting. And I believe Isaac Rathé does it here. It straddles the lines between horror, action, and comedy well, never letting its limitations get in the way of telling a fun story. Set your expectations accordingly and don’t expect anything too shocking though.


Character motivations aren’t fully explored here, which is fine. It largely becomes a big guy versus little guy fight where viewers are cheering for the underdog against all odds. Not much is put in the way of fleshing out the villain, or protagonist for that matter, to make them feel more than just caricatures. Furthermore, much of the film happens because of characters having a need to listen to their gut which can be frustrating but also adds an element of suspense. More could have been done here but it is sufficient for what it is going for.

I try to avoid ripping indie film’s apart for issues that clearly are budget related. Not all of the issues in Duel on the River are monetary. The dialogue is easily the film’s worst attribute. Overly repeated and never really engaging, it gets irritating to hear characters cycle through the same statement or sentiment before reaching the next milestone in the film. There’s some rough editing, especially at the beginning, that takes the viewer out of the film. But once they reach the river, it gets much better. Despite an eighty-minute runtime, Duel on the River could benefit from trimming the fat on an already admittedly paper-thin premise.


Some of the scenes don’t make much sense when you apply too much logic to the analysis, but they fall within the realm of possibility, so it isn’t something that needs too much attention. Most of the cast overacts, which makes for some frustrating moments that cut into the tension out of these very same scenes. The most notable example that comes to mind is the face off scene, which means that the ending falls a bit flat compared to the rest of the film. Kitu Turcas is a clear exception, playing the cool and calm, self-titled Defender of the River. His character is one with the best development and backstory. I almost wish that he were the main character here.

Obviously, there are some issues with the film, but when considering the charming history behind its production, it is an absolute feat of passionate underdog filmmaking. Laced with tension and dark comedy, Duel on the River shocks with how much it actually punches. From fraught chase scenes to nerve-wracking confrontations, this indie gem should one hundred percent be on your radar once it gets on the market. Make sure you add this to your watchlist and keep a lifejacket handy for when the waters start getting rough.


Overall Score? 6/10


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