Dozens of pretty young ladies have disappeared while traveling through backwoods Montana, which does not bode well for a couple city girls planning a weekend off the beaten track in "Green River."

Dozens of pretty young ladies have disappeared while traveling through backwoods Montana, which does not bode well for a couple city girls planning a weekend off the beaten track in “Green River,” a low-budget, borderline-amateurish thriller ever so loosely inspired by the case of Gary Ridgway, Washington state’s real-life “Green River killer.” In a genre where countless up-and-coming helmers have raised the bar, director Sam Taybi under-delivers, never quite achieving the tension that should accompany such material. Limited release is likely to come and go unnoticed.

Film opens promisingly enough, with a handsome flyover shot of a classic red convertible speeding through dense forest territory, Todd Erickson’s ominous synthesizer score striking just the right apprehensive vibe for the misfortune ahead. But as soon as Taybi cuts to a closeup of the two thirtysomethings inside — a pair of lip-smacking, post-sorority types named Allison (Kristina Hughes) and Charisma (Danielle Franke) — the sound design goes out the window, and the audience is left straining to follow their catty conversation over the open-air road noise.

Charisma is retracing the steps of her long-lost sister, who disappeared in this neck of the woods. Allison isn’t too keen on being dragged along, bitching about it the whole way while popping pills to calm her nerves. Before heading out to their isolated cabin, the pair first fill up at a spooky gas station whose owners suggest a religious cult may be behind the missing girls, then stop at a roadhouse diner where the least grizzly of the patrons (Peter Bruce) makes them feel uncomfortable by following them out in his gray pickup.

Pic uses the usual tricks to make auds feel uncomfortable (namely, implying a lurking presence by cutting away from the women to observe them just out of earshot), but spends too much time on them driving, hiking and squabblingbefore getting down to business. Though the guy in the truck does nothing especially suspicious, Natalie jumps to the paranoid conclusion that he must be responsible for abducting all those girls, taking it upon herself to extract a confession.

Despite the film’s short running time, it’s a long, slow buildup to its central psychological dilemma: What happens if an unhinged would-be victim gets the better of a potential serial killer before he has a chance to reveal his true nature? And what if she’s wrong? The answer might have been incredibly effective if Allison’s freak-out scenes didn’t look like something shot for late-night television.

Green River

Production

A Vanguard Cinema release of a Mayon Film production, in association with Ostrow and Co. Produced by Roy C. Granada. Executive producers, Judith K. Cole, Erlinda Granada, Evelyn Granada, Page Ostrow. Directed by Sam Taybi. Screenplay, Tim Durr, Taybi, J.T. Beaupre; story, Taybi, Andrew Cappelletti.

Crew

Camera (color), Taybi; editors, Ron Crigler, Nelson Brann, Todd Erickson; music, Erickson; production designer, Chaz Taylor; costume designer, Taryn Hipwell; sound, Erickson; associate producers, Richard Deats, James Fields, Patt Hawthorne, Michelle Erickson, Jessie Deats, Carey Campbell; assistant director, James Fields. Reviewed on DVD, Los Angeles, May 4, 2008. Running time: 93 MIN.

With

Kristina Hughes, Danielle Franke, Peter Bruce, Robert Lee.
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