River Phoenix’s Final Film ‘Dark Blood’ Now Available on Netflix

Bryan Enk
Movie Talk

River Phoenix was in the home stretch of shooting director George Sluzier's thriller "Dark Blood" when he died of drug-induced heart failure on October 31, 1993. The film has previously been seen only by the attendees of a handful of recent film festivals. But now, thanks to YouTube, you can watch the late, great actor's final work yourself.

Well, at least a pretty good idea of his final work. According to the Los Angeles Times, shooting on "Dark Blood" was about 80 percent complete when Phoenix died, and it remained unfinished and unseen for the better part of 19 years. Finally, director Sluzier (both versions of "The Vanishing") salvaged the project in 2012 by providing narration over missing scenes that were never shot.

"Dark Blood" tells the story of Boy (Phoenix), a young widower whose wife has recently died of radiation poisoning following nuclear tests done near their home. Boy has since retreated to the desert, waiting for the world to end has he carves Kachina dolls, which he believes have magical powers. Things take a psychosexual turn when the car of a couple on their second honeymoon (Judy Davis and Jonathan Pryce) breaks down, which prompts a sinister and bizarre love triangle.

"Dark Blood" premiered to a private audience at the Netherlands Film Festival on September 27, 2012, and was screened earlier this year at the Berlin International Film Festival and the Miami International Film Festival. Unfinished or not, it would appear that it ended up being a pretty decent thriller, albeit one that gets a lot of traction as a curiosity piece.

"'Dark Blood' is fragmentary, uneven and downright odd in parts but it also has huge curiosity value," wrote Geoffrey Macnab of The Guardian. "The director's solution for bridging the considerable gaps is to read out descriptions of what is missing. It's a simple but surprisingly effective tactic. His narration ensures that the film is just about coherent."

River Phoenix made his feature film debut in Joe Dante's weirdo sci-fi adventure "Explorers" (1985), though his heartfelt, intense turn as Chris Chambers in Rob Reiner's "Stand by Me" (1986) made a much stronger impression. He appeared as Harrison Ford's son later that year in "The Mosquito Coast" and later played a younger version of Ford in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989). He earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as the teenage son of political activists wanted by the FBI in "Running on Empty" (1988).