‘Styx’ is a searing drama on the open sea

Styx, co-written by Ika Künzel and Wolfgang Fischer and directed by Fischer, stars Susanne Wolff as Rike, a sailing adventurer who encounters a wrecked ship full of refugees in urgent need of rescue. With two compelling co-stars and a tight, heart-wrenching plot, Styx is a drama that’s hard to get out of your head. (AEL: 4.5/5)

Review by FF2 Contributing Editor Amelie Lasker

When we first meet Rike (Susanne Wolff), she is in her element. She leads a team of paramedics responding to a car accident. Calmly and swiftly, the team smash a car window, extract the patient, lift him into the ambulance, and begin working to keep him alive before the ambulance has even pulled away.

Rike sets out on a solitary adventure on a sailboat stocked with food, water, and medical equipment. She’s headed for Ascension Island, a living experiment where Charles Darwin planted an artificial ecosystem. When she speaks to a nearby cruise ship crew member on their ship radios, Rike is nonchalant. “Wild, untouched nature, but actually planned? It’s an artificial jungle designed by Charles Darwin, must be amazing.” He warns her of a storm approaching them, and her response is similar in tone, not much more than dryly amused. “Doesn’t sound very cozy.”

The rain storm is violent that night, and Rike is whipped around by wind and waves as she struggles to keep the boat from being knocked off course. When she wakes up the next morning, the sea looks calm, but she notices a wrecked ship floating nearby. When she looks closer, she sees that the ship is full of people. They’re waving flags and screaming for help, some of them leaping into the water and struggling to swim.

Rike calls the coast guard, who warn her to stay away. They tell her the sailboat is too small to help all those people, and approaching them will only cause a panic. They promise to send help, but hours later, they haven’t appeared. The nearby cruise ship won’t help either because the captain can’t “risk his job.” It becomes clear that these are refugees, that this is not a new situation for coast guard and commercial boats in this area, and that getting help is not going to be as obvious as Rike hoped.

A teenage boy, Kingsley (Gedion Oduor Wekesa), floats to Rike’s boat from the refugees’ ship. By the time he reaches the sailboat, he is unconscious. Rike works on warming him up, hydrating him, and tucking him in bed to rest and recover. When he wakes up, he looks back at his ship, urging Rike to help them. While Rike and Kingsley wait for help, which is slow to come, there’s nothing they can do but watch and grieve.

Susanne Wolff is fantastic as “Rike,” conveying the stress and loss of her journey with very little dialogue. In long shots that won’t forgive faking, she moves expertly around the sailboat, tightening ropes and resisting sudden tilts. Her ease on the sea is obvious and contagious. Then, when trouble begins and it’s not so clear to her what she should do, she takes on a whole different kind of bravery. Gedion Oduor Wekesa as “Kingsley” has comparatively little screen time and says even less, but his performance is unforgettable.

These are the only two named characters. The film is very pared down, but the elements that remain do the work more than enough. The plot narrows as it unfolds, and the effect is searing.

© Amelie E. Lasker (3/3/19) FF2 Media

Top Photo: Susanne Wolff as Rike.

Middle Photo: Rike’s sailboat approaches a commercial ship.

Bottom Photo: Susanne Wolff as Rike.

Photo Credits: Mark Cassar

Q: Does Styx pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?


The film has very few characters anyway, but Rike is in every scene. When she makes her first contact with the coast guard, it’s a female officer who answers the radio call.

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Amelie Lasker joined FF2 Media in early 2016 after graduating from Columbia University where she studied English and history. She has written plays and had readings for Columbia’s student-written theatre company Nomads, edited the blog for Columbia’s film journal Double Exposure, and worked on film crews and participated in workshops at Columbia University Film Productions. She spent junior year abroad at Cambridge University, where she had many opportunities for student playwrights to see their work produced. 
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