Styx (2018) **** out of *****
I love a good solo survivor/isolationist movie. From Robert Redford confronting his own mortality at sea in All Is Lost (2013) to Tom Hardy fighting for his dignity via vehicle speakerphone in Locke (2013), there is an unmistakable intimacy between a character’s solitude and the audience’s ability to empathize undercover.
Recently released to DVD/Streaming, Styx follows an ER physician with no name and no explanation as to why she sets sail for Ascension Island in the South Atlantic Ocean. There is no talking (not even to herself), thus no subtitles – just the sound of birds chirping and picture pages of the beautiful island destination turning in the breeze.
Suddenly, the radio turns on: “This is Pulpca, over…we have a weather warning…it’s going to be rough.”
Our unnamed protagonist simply responds with a, “It doesn’t sound too cozy. Over.”
It won’t be, and Styx becomes less about the storm of the ocean and more about the storm of morality she is about to face when things calm down. As the weather clears, her boat comes across a sinking freighter inhabited by dozens of refugees who are desperate enough to jump ship and swim to her smaller boat. The Coast Guard fails to mediate, nearby rigs state intervention of such matters is against protocol, and our (possible) heroine is forced to decide to risk her own life or sail by the screaming.
Somehow, first-time director Wolfgang Fischer is able to establish two simultaneous viewpoints of a Good Samaritan query at sea – one that is unaffected, leaving all devices to nature and possibly a passerby ship, and one that is willing to help but with the greatest of qualms due to the unforeseeable chance of danger on an international scale. What is minimalistic and somewhat meditative in style ends up being a much larger movie – one that has a big heart but is too afraid to show it. Maybe the cold, objective viewpoint is intended to keep the politics out and the viewer in, empathizing undercover.
This is a German film with subtitles, written and directed by a newcomer, and starring an actress (Susanne Wolff) not many will recognize. Clocking in at a perfect 92 minutes and challenging the viewer before, during, and after the credits roll – this is my kind of movie.