If Deliverance — dueling banjos, Ned Beatty squealing like a pig, Jon Voight proving himself with a bow and arrow — attempts a status update on civilized, socialized man’s dominion over nature, then Deliver, Jennifer Montgomery’s all-girl remake, which plays tonight at BAM, asks the follow-up question begged by James Dickey and John Boorman’s original: What, exactly, is a woman’s, or women’s, claim over nature?
Deliver‘s a (pointedly) very faithful adaptation, though shot upstate — along, we’re told, the Beaverkill River — making the women, played by Montgomery and fellow experimental filmmakers, presumably 21st century New Yorkers. Much of the chatter, fairly unscripted or at least not conspicuously acted, seems to reflect that variation, and in general creates a distinct social world, a sort of communal communion, to go along with their sometimes girlishly thumbsy difficulty with the rougher parts of the canoe trip — the original arrayed its men along a conquering-to-feminzed continuum, but here we get a better (to say nothing of less macho-mythic) sense of an actual feminine response.
But this amateur home movie vibe — see also the low-key digital photography, more effective for single-take observation than pace-y dramatic sequences — lets the movie down at crucial moments, neutralizing the potential force of some of the more action-driven personal turning points. Especially that hillbilly rape scene. But then there’s the larger question of that scene’s new significance with both victim and perpetrator now women — it seems to reach far past the call-and-response exercise that’s defined this film thus far. In her director’s statement, Montgomery disputes the notion that women don’t pose a sexual threat to each other, but the gender switch, but that’s a starting point and even watching it it’s a difficult scene to unwrap. It’s something I hope Montgomery discusses tonight at BAM.
The screening, by the way, is the opening night of the new series Migrating Forms, from the people who brought you (used to bring you) the New York Underground Film Festival.