River Wild 2023, currently on Netflix, is a reimagining of the 1994 film The River Wild starring Meryl Streep and Kevin Bacon. The film was a box office success with mixed critic reviews. Most thought the film relied heavily on a stellar cast and was otherwise competent at best. Ben Ketai(The Expecting and Malevolent), who directed and co-wrote the script with Mike Nguyen Le, took the action thriller part of the original and mixed it with a taught drama about the ties that bind and mistakes you can’t take back. The result is, overall, a better movie filled with the kinds of anxiety-inducing dread and terrible decision-making that you desperately wish someone could have taken back.
Joey, Gossip Girl’s Leighton Meester, and Gray, SNL’s Tarran Killam, are siblings on a white water rafting trip together. Van(Eve Connolly) and Karissa(Olivia Swan) are joining them, paying for Gray to act as a guide. Unexpected guest Trevor(Adam Brody) is a longtime friend and recently out of prison. On the very first night, things go wrong. Van, Trevor, and Karissa stay up drinking around the campfire, and when Van and Trevor wander off.
Not long after, Trevor begins yelling for help. Trevor says she fell somehow and now has a severe head injury. Joey quickly realizes Van needs a hospital immediately, or she will die. The group sets off on a risky nighttime traverse of a tricky part of the river to get to the nearest ranger stranger, and things get even worse. Van has a seizure, the boat flips, and Joey claims Van told her Trevor hurt her. She also is convinced Trevor purposely flipped the raft and didn’t want them to get to the ranger.
The following day when they reach the ranger’s station, things get even worse. While Joey stays with Van and Karissa, Trevor and Gray walk to the station. Along the way, Trevor becomes very agitated and reminds Gray that he went to jail for him and will not go back. He insists that Gray stay loyal. Unsettled but not realizing just how unhinged Trevor is, they go to the ranger for help. Things escalate quickly, and Trevor grabs his gun and stabs the ranger. The men regroup with the women, and Trevor orders them all at gunpoint to head for Canada so he can escape. Van dies pretty quickly from her head wound, and the quartet pushes onward. Dark secrets, old resentments, and horrific mistakes come to light. Here’s everything you need to know about the ending of River Wild, who survives, what was up with Trevor and Gray, and the difference between the original and this new version.
River Wild Ending Explained
A hiker sees them on the river, and Trevor tries to convince him everything is fine, but he follows them and tries to untie the group while Trevor sleeps. Trevor wakes up and shoots the poor guy before the group can get free. He almost shoots Joey, but Gray convinces him to leave them alive. Gray tells him he needs hostages and their expertise on the river to survive the dangerous section they are headed to.
He agrees, but he is so paranoid that his behavior becomes increasingly violent. Using a knife they found on the hiker’s body, Karissa pokes a hole in the raft, and when they go ashore to patch it, Gray attacks Trevor. Joey and Karissa run while the men fight, and they hear a gunshot. Joey tells Karissa to keep going and returns to check on her brother, who is injured but alive.
The siblings get on the raft, and Joey tries to traverse the dangerous section while Gray lies in the raft. Gray falls into the water, and Joey follows. Trevor has taken a kayak and is following. He also capsizes, and just when Gray and Joey think they have survived the water and escaped Trevor, he appears and stabs Joey. He then crawls on top of her attempting to kill her. She tries to fight back, and he taunts her, saying she is finally fighting back. Gray overhears this and manages to launch one final attack against Trevor. The men struggle, falling over the cliff onto rocks and into the water. Karissa, who managed to get help, saw Joey on the shore, and she was taken to the hospital.
Why did Trevor think Gray owed him anything?
Although Gray heroically protected his sister and Karissa later in River Wild, he was not always a great person. He was a drug dealer and addict. He had a drug business with a sizable supply of drugs he kept stored in a family cabin. When the police found the drugs, Trevor took the blame for his friend and went to jail. Gray got sober and got his life together. Years later, when Trevor got out of prison, he believed Gray should always protect him no matter what as a result.
We also learn that although Trevor was not a drug dealer, he was a sexual predator. Gray was high most of the time and didn’t realize Trevor was raping his sister. His intoxication prevented him from understanding that a fifteen-year-old girl could not and should not be making the decision to have sex with an adult. He also never understood that both Joey and Trevor thought he knew exactly what was happening and was okay with it. This is why Joey was so quick to believe Van and why she was leery of Trevor from the beginning. He went to jail for Gray’s crimes, but in all reality, he would have gone to prison eventually anyway because he was a violent rapist with terrible decision-making skills.
What are the differences between the original film and River Wild 2023?
To say River Wild is a reboot is unfair. Reboots are often just retreads of old ideas with little originality brought to the project. This version, despite the powerhouse cast of the original, is better. Everything feels a little fresher and somehow more plausible than the obviously Deliverance-heavy plotting of the first. It keeps you on the edge of your seat the entire time. An unrelenting score by Tristan Clopet applies pressure in all the best places, and cinematography by Gevorg Gev Juguryan knows how to get the most out of the actors’ panicked faces and the untamed river. The main cast is excellent, with Killam and Brody standouts. An electric chemistry crackles between them that is hard to look away from.
The 1994 version was a family survival story. It was about how far Streep would go to save her child and what her husband would do to protect them both. It was a fairly perfunctory hommage to Deliverance and other backwoods criminals movies where unsuspecting innocents get surprised and have to survive. The white water elements and the amazing cast made the film popular, but it otherwise was nothing special. Streep, a fantastic actress, never looks comfortable in the kind of action role Sigourney Weaver does in her sleep. Meester, thankfully, has a brittle tenacity that feels more believable here.
The focus is primarily on relationships rather than natural elements, so action is limited to physical fighting. Although the setting remains on a river with a wild and dangerous stretch, little of that actual area is seen, unlike in the original. The original was a white water survival story, while River Wild 2023 is a survival story that happens to be set on a river.
River Wild is the rare example of a reboot or reimagining being better than the original. It is currently on Netflix and available on blue ray and DVD now.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.