Survival stories make great movies, as they often don’t need to rely on dialogue to move the plot along. Styx has a tad more dialogue than All is Lost but is another example of letting a suspenseful scenario play out on screen.
Rike (Susanne Wolff) sets out on a solo sailing voyage. After weathering a storm, Rike comes across a ship overflowing with refugees. She reports it to the Coast Guard who advise her to keep way, but she doesn’t want to leave without making sure the survivors are taken care of.
Wolfgang Fischer begins the film contrasting close up shots inside an ambulance and wide shots of the vast ocean with giant tankers barely visible. These tight vs. wide shots come into play later in the movie. The survivor ship is only ever seen at a distance, while the camera remains tight on Rike, or the bow of her ship while she swims off into the distance.
Styx really indicts the Coast Guard for dragging their feet. Their advice makes sense. Of course Rike wants to help, but there are too many unknowns. They could be dangerous. But then get your ass out to the ocean to protect her, man. They ultimately force her hand by waiting so long. If they want her to stay out of it, show up and let her know they’re in good hands.
Rike forms an interesting relationship with one survivor (Gedion Oduor Wekesa), a boy who jumps ship and swims over to her boat. She’s both protective of him and contentious.
Wolff commands the screen as the lone figure for most of the movie. Wekesa is strong enough to make waves in the Rike story too.
Co-writer and director Wolfgang Fischer creates enough natural drama that all he really has to do is get out of its way. He captures the claustrophobia of the boat and the vastness of the ocean, but it’s really the push/pull of practical rules vs. moral incentives that create Styx’s drama.