The slow pace of ‘Styx’ initially seems to have no purpose. For a good 40 minutes, Rike (Susanne Wolff), a doctor about whom we know virtually nothing, is just sailing her boat across the Atlantic, every move instinctual, practised countless times before we join her. She is in her element: on her way to Ascension Island, with a romantic dream of following in the footsteps of Charles Darwin, who used the place as a kind of real-life laboratory. But she’ll never get there.
What director and co-writer Wolfgang Fischer is doing in that first half is giving the audience space to think: time to clear your head. When he then jolts you awake with a surprise in the water, it’s all the more tilting because of the relaxed mood he’s put you in. To reveal exactly what Rike encounters would take away from the film’s effectiveness. It’s nothing bizarre, but it puts ‘Styx’ on a different course, one in which Rike has to make tough moral decisions with very little information. The fact that we know so little about her makes it easier to slip into her shoes. What choices would you make in her situation? What mistakes could you live with?
Fischer’s direction is elegant and swift, ratcheting the film from serenity to panic with effortless panache. It’s a vital, highly intelligent movie that is both a first-class thriller and a biting commentary on our current world. Go and see it, but make sure you don’t read another thing about it before you do...