‘River Wild’ Ending Explained & Movie Summary: Is Joey Dead Or Alive?

There is no shortage of outdoor survival thrillers that use past tragedies or estranged family ties as the fulcrum of the narrative mechanism, and in the well-made ones, the atmospheric isolation works like a charm in intensifying the central mystery. Although River Wild, a remake of the 1994 hit starring Meryl Streep of the same name (minus the definitive prefix), does fall into a similar category of movies, its straightforward plotline, questionable characterization, and loopholes contribute to it being a pretty forgettable watch.


While Leighton Meester and Adam Brody as leads make the ordeal of finishing the movie in one go less of a bland affair than it could have been, the highly predictable plot turns out to be the major deal breaker. From a qualitative aspect, the only similarity the remake shares with the original is the way it displays the lush green mountainscape of British Columbia in all its glory, which acts as a saving grace for an otherwise bleak flick.

Spoilers Ahead


What Calamity Befell Joey And Co. While Camping?

As River Wild begins, the view is focused on a cataract, and the sound of turbulent water increases and drowns out every other sound in the vicinity. We are introduced to Joey, a doctor by profession, who is taking a few days off from her work and life as she is going on a rafting and camping adventure trail on the Kootenai River with her big brother, Gray. However, it seems that despite being somewhat excited about the trip, something has been bothering Joey’s mental state as she tries to ease her nerves.

Gray has been acting as a river activity guide for the last three years, and on this trip of theirs, two tourist friends, Karissa and Van, will be joining them as well. Gray is visibly joyous to see his little sister after what seems to be a certain time gap. However, as he states that one of their (him and Joey’s) mutual friends, Trevor, wanted to accompany them, Joey gets perplexed. She is even more irritated after learning that Trevor wanted to join them even after knowing Joey would be present on this trip. There is a history between this trio and some incidents that took place way earlier during their Snake River camping trip, but viewers do not get to know the details until much later. Nevertheless, bottling up her discomfort, Joey briefly catches up with Trevor and joins others in white-water rafting. After splashing through some cascades, the group camps in the wilderness to spend the night.


We get to learn that Trevor is an ex-felon who is under probation as of now, and thanks to Gray assigning him the camping guide job, he is able to make ends meet. As the group members start unwinding during the bonfire, Van and Karissa get eager to know more about a fairly reserved Joey. As she reveals that she is in a relationship with one of her doctoral colleagues, Trevor’s tongue-in-cheek remark doesn’t get by her. As the conversation moves towards Gray, Joey reveals that he has been staying sober for sometime. As awkwardness creeps up in the group after this revelation, Joey decides to hit the hay.

Karissa, Van, and Trevor keep getting wasted on the booze that Van managed to sneak in, and the boys engaged in minor leg-pulling. After a while, Van goes away from the campsite to take a leak, followed by Trevor, and soon after, the rest of the members are alerted by Van’s scream. As Gray, Joey, and Karissa rush to the spot, they find out that Van, who is still conscious, has fractured her skull and is bleeding profusely. Trevor states that she slipped, and her fall caused the injury, but as he and Gray rush to get the satellite phone and first aid, Van confides in Joey and Karissa that Trevor grabbed her. Not so coincidentally, Trevor reveals that none of the satellite phones are working, which means calling for help is impossible. Crossing the river, the nearest medical facility is half a day’s hike, while going directly through the river will take them to the ranger office in merely two hours. Joey tells his brother about the urgency of medical attention, and the group starts rowing through the river at night.


What Sordid Past Scarred Joey For Life?

Going through the cascades and toppling the raft, the group finally reaches the nearest shore to the ranger office at daybreak. Before Trevor and Gray rush to the office, Joey warns her brother about Trevor’s involvement in Van’s ‘accident.’ Later, as Trevor confronts Gray about Joey’s suspicion, their conversation reveals that Trevor was incarcerated to save Gray’s life, and in return, he has ensnared him in a manipulative blackmailing trap since then. At the ranger’s office, as Gray informs Ranger Walt of the situation, he goes to call for medical assistance. An unhinged Trevor stops Walt, and soon a scuffle takes place between them, which results in Walt getting stabbed to death by Trevor. Taking the ranger’s handgun, Trevor commands Gray to assist him in disposing of the body, which the duo manages to do by exploding it inside the patrol vehicle.

As the duo return to Joey and Karissa, Trevor takes control of the situation by commanding them at gunpoint to row towards the Alaskan border as he seeks to go scot-free. A horrified Joey asks her brother to resist Trevor’s hold over him, but her pleas go in vain. Due to a lack of treatment, Van breathes her last in the rafting boat as the rest of the group members keep rowing.


As the raft approaches a bridge, Joey notices a hiker walking across it and manages to draw his attention towards her by reflecting sunlight using a metal lighter. However, Trevor manages to persuade the hiker to continue his trail by bluffing. The group buries Van and sets up camp for the night, and Trevor ties up the rest of the members before dozing off.

From the conversation between Joey and Gray, viewers get to know that this is not the first time Gray jeopardized his sister’s life by choosing to trust Trevor, as, during their aforementioned expedition on the Snake River, Gray unwittingly allowed Trevor to have his way with Joey, who was a minor back then. What Gray assumed to be love was simply Trevor manipulating a young, naive Joey to fulfill his carnal desires. The event traumatized Joey and contributed to the estranged relationship between the siblings, and almost a similar situation is emerging all over again.


Did Joey Survive in The End?

Meanwhile, the hiker who noticed them at the bridge had followed their raft to their resting site. As he tries to untie the rest of the group members, Trevor shoots him dead from behind, and the group has to bury him in the forest as well. However, Karissa manages to sneak a pocket knife from the hiker’s pouch while burying him, which she uses to poke a hole in the raft the next day. As Trevor notices the boat to be leaking, he makes a halt and commands Gray to repair it.

Using this opportunity to go through his survival kit, Gray uses his bear mace spray on Trevor, and the duo engages in a brawl. Joey unties Karissa, and the duo starts rushing through the forest when they notice Gray getting shot by Trevor, who gives chase. After a point, Joey asks Karissa to go her own way while she tries to return to save her brother. Joey distracts Trevor to allow Karissa to escape and jumps off a cliff into the water, only to swim to the shore and take an injured Gray to the raft. Trevor chases them in a kayak by killing a couple more adventurers; at this point, he is literally making bodies drop like flies.


As the raft speeds towards the torrential cataract of the river, known as ‘the beast,’ Gray guides Joey verbally to navigate through relatively safer areas. However, the raft topples, causing both of them to fall into the turbulent waters, and Joey somehow drags Gray to the shore. At that moment, she notices an empty kayak behind her, and soon enough, Trevor emerges to stab Joey in the back.

A grievously injured Gray lies on the ground while Trevor pins down Joey, taunting her regarding the events of the Snake River camping trip. Using his last bit of strength, Gray restrains Trevor and pulls him into the river, where the duo falls through the steep cataract and passes away. Gray’s lifeless body drifts down the river.


Karissa, on the other hand, has managed to lead a search party in a helicopter to sweep through the wilderness. Joey notices the chopper, and as she tries to shout for help, she discovers that her stab injury and subsequent fall blocked airflow in her lungs. She is feeling out of breath and unable to shout. Performing an impromptu thoracostomy, Joey finally manages to draw the attention of the search party. As she is taken into the chopper, Joey breathes a sigh of relief by looking at Karissa; their eyes exchange the pangs of the experiences they have been through in the last couple of days. With what Joey had to endure previously, the events unfolded like déjà vu, and it would be surprising if it hadn’t broken her mentally already.

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Siddhartha Das
Siddhartha Das
An avid fan and voracious reader of comic book literature, Siddhartha thinks the ideals accentuated in the superhero genre should be taken as lessons in real life also. A sucker for everything horror and different art styles, Siddhartha likes to spend his time reading subjects. He's always eager to learn more about world fauna, history, geography, crime fiction, sports, and cultures. He also wishes to abolish human egocentrism, which can make the world a better place.

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