Should River Phoenix's last film finally be released?

Eighteen years after his death, the late actor's final film might be completed — for better or worse

River Phoenix
(Image credit: Rob Brown/Corbis)

Eighteen years ago on Halloween, River Phoenix's promising acting career was cut short when he died of a drug overdose in West Hollywood. At the time of his death at age 23, Phoenix was shooting a drama called Dark Blood, playing a widowed hermit who lives at a nuclear testing site, preparing for the apocalypse. After Phoenix's death, the film's Dutch director, George Sluizer, locked up the unfinished footage, fearing it might be destroyed. Now, Sluizer says he's found a way to edit and finish the film, provided River's brother, Joaquin, helps out with voiceover work. Should the movie be released?

It's an intriguing idea: "I'm excited" by this prospect, says Drew McWeeny at HitFix. River Phoenix was a "brilliant" actor with a "remarkable presence." I read the Dark Blood script back in the day and remember thinking it would be a challenging film to do right given the tone. But, whether handled well or not, it will be fascinatingly "surreal to see a new film starring someone who's been dead so long."

"Final River Phoenix film, 'Dark Blood,' will be finished and released"

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

I don't know: "I'm not sure if I need my memory of River messed with," says Sabrina Rojas Weiss at The Fab Life. As a huge fan, I was devastated by his death. If the movie is done well, I'd like to see it. If it isn't, I'd prefer to just Netflix Running on Empty, Phoenix's best film, in my opinion.

"River Phoenix was our Robert Pattinson: Discuss"

And there's all that family drama: I hope all is well between the filmmakers and the Phoenix family at this point, says James Wallace at After Phoenix's sudden death, the Dark Blood producers tried to sue his mother for $6 million, saying that River had not declared his drug problem for the film's insurance, and asserting that his family was on the hook now that the film couldn't be completed. The suit was eventually dropped. "Hopefully, any grudges were too."

"Last unseen film starring River Phoenix might finally get released"

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.