Offering a fresh take on the survival-in-wilderness genre, "Crooked Lake" gives a grrrl-power twist to a scenario usually played as a boy's-life adventure.

Offering a fresh take on the survival-in-wilderness genre, “Crooked Lake” — known as “Portage” prior to its Slamdance Film Festival debut — gives a grrrl-power twist to a scenario usually played as a boy’s-life adventure. Modestly suspenseful, character-driven indie will pose a marketing challenge to U.S. distrib NeoClassics Films, since young teen and tweener femmes — the obvious target demo — would be kept away by a probable R rating (for language). Without scrubbing or redubbing to defuse multiple F-bombs on the soundtrack, Canadian production probably won’t connect with empathetic auds until it reaches the safe haven of homevid.

In all fairness, it should be noted that the extreme circumstances credibly rendered here might drive even the most demure young ladies to foul-mouthed ranting.

During a camping-and-canoeing trip in the Canadian Shield wilderness, four adolescent girls are left to fend for themselves after Jonah (Guy Yarkoni), their slightly older summer-camp guide, is accidentally killed. Steph (Stephanie Richardson), Jonah’s sister, refuses to leave his body behind, forcing her friends to help her carry the corpse across rugged terrain and load it aboard their canoe.

The girls get lost, tempers start to fray, allegiances shift. And to make a bad situation almost intolerably worse, the longer the unhappy campers remain in the wild, the harder it is for them to endure the stench of Jonah’s corpse.

Written and directed by the tyro triumvirate of Sascha Drews, Ezra Krybus and Matthew Miller, “Crooked Lake” makes the most of minimal resources. Sometimes shaky, sometimes smooth handheld DV lensing (by Drews and Krybus) gives the pic an immediacy that greatly enhances its dramatic and emotional impact.

“Crooked Lake” also benefits from strong perfs by well-cast unknowns. Richardson is particularly compelling while providing pic’s p.o.v. as Steph, a 14-year-old girl still recovering from an earlier trauma when tragedy strikes. (Like her femme co-stars — Alysha Aubin, Candice Mausner and Morgan McCunn — young thesp plays a character with her own name.) She delivers spare narration with affecting sincerity, and wrenches aud’s hearts with a terribly ironic final line of dialogue.

Filmmakers don’t shy away from subtly conveying the budding sensuality of the four girls, but there is nothing in the pic that smacks of exploitation. Only the expletives will upset the censorious.

Crooked Lake

Canada

Production

A NeoClassics Films (in U.S.) release of a Darius Films production, in association with Common Films, with the participation of Telefilm Canada. Produced by Nicholas D. Tabarrok, Jaty Tam, Matthew Miller. Executive producers, Uwe Feuersenger, Henry Gerstel. Directed, written by Sascha Drews, Ezra Krybus, Matthew Miller.

Crew

Camera (color, DV), Drews, Krybus; editor, Kathy Weinkauf; music, Drews; sound, Sammy Yi; assistant director, Tricia Lee. Reviewed on DVD, Houston, Jan. 26, 2008. (In Slamdance Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 87 MIN.

With

Alysha Aubin, Candice Mausner, Morgan McCunn, Stephanie Richardson, Guy Yarkoni.
Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more