River Phoenix fans and completists will finally get to see his final film, the existential Western Dark Blood, sometime later this year as Lionsgate acquires the North American rights to the movie. A VOD release is being planned.
The rights to the film have been tied up for decades. River Phoenix passed away during the middle of shooting in 1993, leaving only 80% of the production completed. Co-writer and director George Sluizer has been trying to sell Dark Blood since completing the film last year, when it made its debut at the 2013 Berlin Film Festival. It has since made numerous festival appearances, finally being picked up by Lionsgate this week at Cannes.
At the time of River Phoenix's untimely death from a drug overdose outside the popular Viper Room in West Hollywood, rights to the unfinished film reverted back to the insurance company. George Sluizer spent many years trying to recover the film and sequester it away. In 1999, he learned that the insurance company planned to destroy the remaining footage, and was able to save it and smuggle it back to Holland.
About the footage, George Sluizer explained,
It laid in my care for many years waiting for something to happen with it. I was making other films at the time and it was safe."
The director suffered a life-threatening aneurism in 2007, and decided he wanted to complete the film before he died. To make-up for the missing River Phoenix footage that he was never able to shoot, George Sluizer provided his own voice over.
The story follows Boy, a young widower who retreats to the desert after his wife dies of radiation poisoning due to nuclear tests being conducted near their home. While waiting for the end of the world to come, he spends his days carving 'Katchina' dolls that supposedly contain magical powers. When a young couple breaks down near his new home in the desert, Boy takes them hostage. He finds himself in love with the woman, and wants to make a better world for her. Jonathan Pryce and Judy Davis are River Phoenix's co-stars in the movie.
Dark Blood doesn't currently have a domestic release date. It is now playing in Japan, and will soon open in Brazil, South Korea and Turkey, where River Phoenix has taken on the same type of cult status as James Dean and Marilyn Monroe, all actors who died too young.