‘Sometimes you have to lose yourself ‘fore you can find anything…’
I often think that one of the reasons that many people neglect to watch a ‘classic’ film is because they have kinda seen it already. I’ve never sat down and watched Grease, but I could tell you the characters, the plot and most of the musical numbers regardless. And so it is with Deliverance. I knew the plot, I knew the characters, I knew about ‘squeal like a pig’, I’d just never watched the damn thing.
Lewis (Burt Reynolds) is a lover of the outdoors who persuades his three buddies to accompany him on a trip to the Cahulawassee River. In the end, the primitive and vicious country folk who live there are more dangerous than the meandering rapids themselves.
Deliverance hasn’t aged particularly well. It has become a victim of its own success. Because its tale of being lost in the wilderness and confronted by a nightmarish ‘other’ is so intoxicating, it has since become the staple of hundreds of horror films. This plot will be familiar to anyone that has seen Wrong Turn or Wolf Creek or even The Hills Have Eyes. The difference of course is that Deliverance did it first and it did it better. Actually not better… classier.
The inclusion of Reynolds and also Jon Voight – who is excellent throughout – add a gravitas to the grimier elements of the story, including the scene that Deliverance is most famous for. Not the banjo scene, the other one. The assured direction of John Boorman, combined with a talented cast, ensures that Deliverance never feels like a video nasty. Instead, it is almost a documentary, and this only serves to make the whole thing creepier. More authentic.
Deliverance isn’t particularly shocking by today’s standards. Nor has it stood the test of time particularly well. That shouldn’t distract from this film’s vast influence however, nor its undoubted power. Boorman’s calling card has endured because the unknown is still so irresistibly terrible to all of us. It’s inherent in human nature.