STYX gets 6/10 Lost at sea

Directed by Wolfgang Fischer

Starring Susanne Wolff, Gedion Wekesa Oduor


If you’re in the mood for a simple (very simple) film that’s technically astonishing and light in substance, you could do a lot worse than Styx, playing as part of the German Film Festival’s first foray in to Perth starting next Tuesday. The dual feelings of satisfaction and frustration stem from the film’s storyline efficiency and insubstantiality respectively.

After an impressive opening sequence of a careless car crash, emergency personnel Rike (Susanne Wolff) is so disillusioned with life on land that she hauls up a 12-metre long yacht and ventures out to sea, hoping to reach Ascension Island. Images of wild baboons littering domestic forgotten streets, as well as Rike’s own imaginings of the tropical wonders of the island, establish an off-kilter viewpoint of the current state of the co-existence of humans and animals.

But this is all interrupted when Rike stumbles across an unmoving but drifting boat with some clearly distressed folks on board. Her calls for help over the radio don’t assuage her worries, and as she remains close to the boat, she must deal single-handedly with each pressing situation she encounters, feeling hopelessly away from any other people or help.

Wolff is perfectly cast, yet underused, in what is something of a limited role – a great deal of her moral conflict is internal, and though she’s great at externalising this and making vivid use of conveying this with her face, it ultimately is limited by the film lacking scope.

Styx can’t help but bare similarities to its minimalist survival contemporaries, like the other ‘lone sailor stranded at sea’ film All is Lost, or the other ‘rescuer in a moral dilemma’ film Arctic, which were also early films in the careers of their directors. These kinds of films can vary in how these distilled cinematic stories merely feel like handsomely crafted, but emotionally and thematically lightweight warm-up exercises for these inexperienced directors – unfortunately, Styx is one of them.

By the time it finally reaches its end, it feels like we’re only at the end of the second act – there’s a whole other piece of the story, and character arc, that feels missing (Rike’s reason for her voyage is completely thrown out the window, like it never needed to be established – maybe it’s that). German writer-director Wolfgang Fischer seems to have the chops for filling the screen with incredible images and an easily engaging tale, but with a beefier script with more underlying it, he could make something much more extraordinary.