• VoidVideoPod@gmail.com
  • The Void
Isaac Rathé Ditches The Highway For The Waterway With ‘Duel on the River’

Isaac Rathé Ditches The Highway For The Waterway With ‘Duel on the River’

Have you ever found yourself wondering what Steven Spielberg’s Duel would’ve been like if it took place entirely on the Detroit River, featuring an epic battle between a recently dumped, emotionally lost young man in a kayak and a psychopathic, middle-aged alcoholic driving a fishing boat? Well I have good news, because that’s exactly what Isaac Rathé’s upcoming debut feature Duel on the River is. Made entirely on a budget of around $1,500 by Isaac and some friends during the pandemic, it’s an homage-filled, DIY fever dream that’s made by people who have a clear passion for the classics. I recently sat down with writer and director Isaac Rathé, following a screening of the film in the Void Video Discord server, for a chat about how he translated the rip-roaring chase from the open road to the open water while injecting it with other influences and a style of his own.

Evan: “The opening scene introduces a comedic element that’s specifically strong in the first third of the film, but later sprinkled throughout. These moments break up the tension quite well; what inspired this comedic aspect?”

Isaac: “Well, *laughs* the whole movie started as a joke that my brother said to me one day when we were kayaking. We saw some jet skis passing by and he made a joke about how powerless we’d be if they came over and started bullying us; I kind of thought that’d be fun to make into a scary, serious movie. This was quickly followed by the realization that I didn’t really have the budget to do an entirely serious movie well, so I figured the only way to make it work with what we had was to make it sort of goofy and fun. My thinking was that when you’re working on a budget as small as ours there’s bound to be flaws, so we might as well embrace it and make the flaws in our film funny.”

Evan: “That makes perfect sense. I loved that part personally, it reminded me of classic exploitation and grindhouse films, which I love.”

Isaac: “Thanks man, I definitely wanted it to have that sort of grindhouse feel. Speaking of which I actually just recently rewatched Death Proof.”

Evan: “Oh hell yeah.”

Isaac: “Honestly that kind of movie is just as important for a movie like mine as Duel itself was, in the sense that there’s these sort of mindless killings and they really spend time developing the psycho in that film. That’s definitely a big one for me.”

Evan: “That’s awesome that you brought that up because I like Tarantino obviously, and I think Death Proof is a film of his that doesn’t really get the love it should. It’s a perfect love letter to traditional grindhouse cinema and classic car films.”

Isaac: “Yeah I definitely fuck with Death Proof, a lot.”

Evan: “Speaking of developing the psycho, I like how much of a peek into the psyche of the killer we get in your film; it adds a very maniacal spin to your antagonist as opposed to the more mystical one we see in Duel. Outside of Death Proof what were your inspirations when writing your antagonist and developing his personality?”

Isaac: “Well I always thought one of the strong points of Duel was the fact that they don’t show the killer and there’s that mystery to him. At the same time though I’m already basically ripping off the whole plot of the movie *laughs* so I did want to change some things and make it my own. So that was one way I saw an opportunity to make a big change was to actually show the killer, and show a lot of him. At the same time though I still wanted to keep a little bit of that mystery, so you do see a lot of the guy but you don’t get any real answers, you know? You get a glimpse into his life, you see that his wife’s cheating on him, stuff like that, but none of that really explains why he’s killing people. So I tried to kind of find that middle ground of being different from Duel, but also keeping that mystery because that’s one of the best parts of the movie in my opinion.”

Evan: “Yeah for sure, and that’s a good point that he does still have that air of mystery to him even though he’s more fleshed out on screen. You get more of a peek into his psyche than you do with Duel, but not so much that you don’t still have questions about his motive.”

Isaac: “Yeah, exactly.”

Evan: “Were there any other classic films in particular that inspired the characters, tone, or musical choices in the film? The score in particular is great, and totally has a retro feel to it.”

Isaac: “A lot of John Carpenter, his work has always been a huge inspiration for me. I showed the composer Andrew Campbell a lot of John Carpenter tracks as reference points. A good bit of Mario Bava as well, most specifically Bay of Blood, also called Twitch of the Death Nerve.”

Evan: “Yeah that’s one interesting thing about those classic Italian horror films, each country they released in they got a new title. *laughs* I definitely can see those influences though, and the music sounds especially Carpathian at times, Andrew did a fantastic job.”

Isaac: “He really did, and this was the first thing he’d ever composed for a film.”

Evan: “Wow.”

Isaac: “He’s been a musician for years. I’ve known him since high school and I knew he was very technically proficient so I reached out, asked him if he’d ever thought about doing a score for a film and he was totally in. He just kind of learned the process as he went along and he did a really good job.”

Evan: “Absolutely, that’s super impressive that it was his first film score because I think he killed it.”

Isaac: “I’ll definitely pass the compliment on and I’m really looking forward to working with him again in the future.”

Evan: “I look forward to that also, his score added so much depth to the experience and really sold the moments. I want to talk for a second about the water scenes, they’re very well done especially for a budget as small as the one you guys were working on. There’s a few scenes specifically where both boats are pictured and it looks like the camera is on the water, did you jump in and swim around with your rig for these shots?”

Isaac: “Yeah you’re exactly right, a lot of the times I was on one of them, but those shots where both boats are shown are the ones where I was swimming around in the water with the camera. Like half the budget of the movie went to getting this waterproof cage that could house the camera when it had to be in the water. *laughs* It was kind of a piece of shit, though; I was scared the camera was going to break or get soaked every time I jumped in the water with it.”

Evan: “That was nerve-racking, I bet. *laughs* It seems to have worked out though.”

Isaac: “It did work pretty well in the end, I had to crop a bit on those shots due to some vignetting caused by the cage so it’s a bit lower resolution than the rest, I think it still worked out though.”

Evan: “I didn’t think about that until you mentioned it but it was a little zoomed in on those sections; I actually kind of think it worked in your favor once again though, it gave it a pretty cool and fitting aesthetic.”

Isaac: “Yeah sometimes I think so too, it gives it sort of a grimy, grindhouse sort of look.”

Evan: “Well Isaac, what are your plans for Duel on the River as far as distribution and release goes?”

Isaac: “We’re sort of winding down the festival run now so I look to probably just drop it on Amazon Prime sometime fairly soon. We also are in the process of working out a deal with a local blu-ray shop here in Toronto called Gold Ninja Video.”

Evan: “Oh yeah, I just backed a crowdfunding campaign of theirs not long ago. I’ll totally pick one of those up if it goes though, small world!”

Isaac: “Nice! Yeah hopefully that goes down, someone put me in touch with them recently and that’d really be my dream come true is to have a blu-ray of the movie.”

Evan: “That’d be awesome, man. I’d love to see that sitting on my shelf next to Duel.”

Isaac: “Yes, that’d be amazing.” *laughs*

Evan: “Well it sounds like you’ve got great plans and I can’t wait to get the blu-ray if that works out and for the Prime release also; I’ll be sure and bug all my friends to go watch it.” *laughs*

Isaac: “I can’t wait for that either man, it’s exciting that everyone will be able to go and watch it. Thanks again for hosting the screening that was awesome. For doing this interview too, it means a lot.”

Evan: “Absolutely, I had a blast watching it again with you and Darius, along with our friends in the Discord that came to hang. I appreciate you sitting down to talk to me about it, looking forward to your next project, Isaac.”

I’d like to also thank Lola (friend of the store) for streaming the movies for us for our watch party, of which we’ll have another coming very soon. Be sure to watchlist the film on Letterboxd (https://letterboxd.com/film/duel-on-the-river/) and if you’d like to ask Isaac some questions yourself, you can join the Void Video Discord (https://discord.gg/2Wg2eZyXZF) to do just that. You can check out Duel on the River on VOD services as well as on blu-ray, via Gold Ninja!