Styx is a new German film directed and co-written by Wolfgang Fischer. The movie follows a doctor who, while on a solo sailing trip, discovers a sinking boat of refugees and is faced with a difficult decision. It debuted at the 2018 Berlin International Film Festival and played other festivals including Toronto and London.
The film starts out looking like it is going to be a fairly run-of-the-mill lost at sea movie. Then, at about the halfway mark, it transforms into something much more complex and interesting. Instead of being about the internal crisis of one person coming to terms with their own demise, it is about someone coming to terms with the demise of others. This creates an even greater feeling of helplessness.
A big part of what makes this film so interesting is that it handles its themes in an extremely effective way. The movie is certainly meant to cause the audience to think. Although it is unlikely any of us will find ourselves in the exact same situation as the protagonist, we may very well find ourselves in a similar situation in which we are given the choice between acting and remaining inert which could cause a great deal of pain to ourselves or others.
The pacing of the film is very strong. The movie maintains its tension very well over the course of the runtime, never letting up once it gets going. In the first few scenes, you may wonder what you’re getting yourself into (the intro is very surreal, especially when compared to the rest of the film), but by around the ten minute mark, it finds its rhythm and begins to move.
The characters in the script are also well-written. The protagonist, Rieke, is made to be an interesting and complex character. Although the second scene may at first seem somewhat meaningless, it does a great job of establishing the protagonist and her values that come to shape the whole movie. Kingsley is also an interesting character, although he does seem a bit like a plot device at times.
Susanne Wolf does a great job in her lead role. This is nearly a one-woman show, and she is able to carry the film with ease. Her emotional range is phenomenal and she is able to convey so much with minimal dialogue. Had a less talented actress been in the leading role, the script still would have held its own but the movie may not have been as impressive as a whole. The child actor Gedion Oduor Wekesa gives a small, but powerful turn in his supporting role.
On a technical level, the film is extremely impressive as well. The cinematography is absolutely amazing. The movie was shot on digital, but it does not have that aggressively digital feel that is often frustrating in films shot in that medium. The use of the camera in such a confined location is effective and breathtaking.
Overall, Styx was a phenomenal movie. Although a few small elements don’t entirely pay off, the film is beautiful, thought-provoking, and intense. Definitely see this one if you get the chance.
Styx opens in theaters February 27.