@Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 26 Apr 2019
Styx begins with what appears to be a typical story arc for a yachting adventure; a lone sailor sets off on a voyage of personal discovery. Cue pointers to a thriller like trepidation, with drone shots of open seas and said sailor’s preparation. This is followed by the idyllic moments of oneness with nature, wild swimming (which would be terrifying were it not for her nearby grab line), and commune with the ocean as she reads about the magic of her destination: Ascension Island. Inevitably there’s a huge storm and our heroine (Doctor Rieke, played by Susanne Wolff) has to battle the elements to survive, with no help.
Wolfgang Fischer’s film has barely any dialogue in for almost the entire duration, yet we’re gripped by the impressive cinematography and mesmerising performance from Wolff. The silence is broken as Rieke suddenly has a need to communicate. She discovers a sinking trawler overfilled with refugees, just off the coast of Africa, And it’s here that the film takes on a moral mantle. Rieke represents the good Samaritan, attempting to help, while the coast guard and other vessels pass by, unwilling to intervene. It’s a charged, important and timely message, but in terms of story, presents a considerable problem.
Rieke is a doctor, incredibly well prepared for her journey and extremely knowledgeable of all things relating to seafaring and navigation. Yet she’s deeply shocked, not only that she’s discovered something like this in this area, but that a cruise ship with whom she’s been in communication, won’t help (despite this being, sadly, a not unheard of occurrence). And this is where the realism breaks down. She would have been aware at least in part, of all the possibilities before even setting off, had she researched her route as carefully as the film depicts her having done. But incredulity aside, and more importantly, the film is about projecting a valuable and important message.
Styx ends – in terms of the narrative – feeling incomplete. There are unanswered questions. It’s cinematically unsatisfying. But these are no doubt posed to prompt wider society to ask – and answer – more questions about what continues to unfold in seas around the world, as the same world turns an apparent blind eye.