Screened as part of NZIFF 2005

Undertow 2004

Directed by David Gordon Green

USA In English
110 minutes


Lisa Muskat, Terrence Malick, Edward R. Pressman


David Gordon Green, Joe Conway. Based on a story by Lingard Jervey


Tim Orr


Zene Baker, Steven Gonzales


Philip Glass


Toronto, New York, London 2004; Rotterdam 2005


Jamie Bell, Josh Lucas. Devon Alan, Dermot Mulroney, Shiri Appleby, Pat Healy, Bill McKinney, Kristen Stewart


"Undertow – which stars Jamie Bell and Josh Lucas as a fugitive boy and his devilish uncle – is a contemporary Southern Gothic movie thriller, true to its roots but also true to our time. Easily, violently, Green's film sinks its characters into a swamp of naturalism and accurate surface detail and then sends them on a nightmarish journey through a landscape that seems both real and magical: a rural Deep South terrain full of sun-seared forests, rotting junkyards and small farms reeking with manure, old junk and neglect... With its fairytale structure, taut story and rich atmosphere, it's a bit reminiscent of the Charles Laughton-James Agee classic The Night of the Hunter – though it's shot recognizably in the style of American 70s rural movie crime dramas such as Deliverance or Badlands. 

...It's far more accessible than Green's two previous critical hits, George Washington and All the Real Girls, which the public mostly ignored. It's a movie by a young, gifted director who has been almost defiantly out of the mainstream and now, gingerly, tries his hand at a seemingly sure-fire genre piece, a classic chase thriller with recognizable stars and faces... The acting is strong throughout. Bell, without a trace of his old accent, creates an almost Huck Finn-ish outsider. From Chris' very first scene, when he tries to rouse a girlfriend by throwing rocks at her bedroom window and then flees her rifle-brandishing dad with a nail piercing his foot, he seems a figure both real and mytho-poetic. So do Mulroney as his doomed dad; Alan as Tim; Shiri Appleby as their friend-on-the-road Violet; and Lucas as Deel--radiating sex, evil and pathological violence in a way that recalls, though it can't match, Robert Mitchum's Preacher Harry Powell in Hunter. In using these resources to make a more conventional movie, Green makes a real stretch--with the strong help of his cast, of writer Conway, of Terrence Malick, who co-produced this film and of Green's own crack cinematographer Tim Orr. In the end, he succeeds, often brilliantly, though Undertow is definitely not the sort of movie you'd expect from him – or from the genre. Still, for anyone who likes classic, offbeat American moviemaking, in the rural-thriller genre from Moonrise to Macon County Jail, Undertow is one to check. Seething with violence, bleeding with lyricism, it's a poem from the junk heap, a cry from the swamp, another night for another hunter." — Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune