Quicksand (2023) Review
Director: Andres Beltran
Screenwriter: Matt Pitts
Starring: Carolina Gaitán, Allan Hawco, Sebastian Eslava, Andrés Castañeda
There’s a moment in this film, now available to stream on Shudder, where our two main characters, who invariably get stuck in a pit of quicksand (if you didn’t get that from the title of the film), are trying to keep each other from passing out. If they pass out, they’ll never be rescued. There’s a massive irony in this, as passing out would be a decent thing to do whilst watching the film; the end would at least come quicker that way.
It’s not an awful concept for a film when you boil it down. A former doctor travels back to her home of Columbia to deliver a speech at a conference, and her soon-to-be-divorced husband comes with her. On their day off, they decide to go hiking in the rainforests surrounding Bogotá, because it’s kind of a holiday, so why not? They used to do it in their younger days. Only they get held at gunpoint, and in the ensuing fight to get away, end up trapped in a big bog of muddy quicksand. Can they survive? Can they make it out, or will the harsh realities of nature be their end? Now we have our film.
You can see what the filmmakers were going for. When you see the runtime is less than 90 minutes, with a title like Quicksand, you know that it’s a low budget, tight, independent thriller. It will be a fight for survival, all set in one place, and about overcoming various trials to pad out the runtime. Eventually at least one of them will get out. It’s one of the most literal ‘man-in-hole’ Kurt Vonnegut structure examples you could have. And in theory, you could make it a very tight, entertaining, gripping little thriller. After all, Saw started out as James Wan and Leigh Whannel asking themselves the question; ‘How do we keep two people in one room for an entire film because we don’t have the money to do anything else?’
In this instance, however, tight, gripping, and entertaining, are words very much thrown out of the window. The dialogue, just to begin with, is so on-the-nose that it reads more like a teleplay than things people would actually say. One wonders if it started out as a radio drama, with the characters having to describe everything to the audience. If it were fun dialogue it might be bearable, but most of it is spent on our two ‘heroes’ squabbling and having cliched petty arguments (crying that you never loved me and it was all too much for me and woe is me). It’s not the remotest bit engaging or pathos-inducing. Then there’s being stuck in mud, which seems to allow the characters to move their arms and heads and occasionally their feet with an inconsistency which strangely aligns with whatever the plot requires.
A few rare, fleeting moments from the direction – a very nice use of a knife to see a snake creeping up behind Sofia, a very Medusa-like bit of symbolism which paints her as some kind of Columbian Perseus for no reason whatsoever – show that there might have been something here. Maybe if her husband Josh, who is also stuck in the mud with her, had been very into his mythology, it would have rubbed off on her. She could have been inspired by his favourite legends, and used this strength to battle her way out. Maybe even bring in an element or two of Colombian folklore to pair off with it. Not to have any supernatural manifestations; just purely something to add to the film, make it somewhat richer.
No. Why would we bother with that when we have a dull, lifeless film stuck with nowhere to go, perishing in the archives of film history, soon to be forgotten? There’s definitely not an ironic metaphor there at all.