Four suburban men decide to take a canoe trip down the Cahulawassee River just before the land is flooded and turned into a lake. It’s all the idea of wilderness enthusiast Lewis (Burt Reynolds), the other three would just as well play golf. Ed (Jon Voight) seems to be closest to Lewis and wonders why he always comes on these trips. Bobby (Ned Beatty) is the clumsy, chubby insurance agent. Drew (Ronny Cox) seems to be the soft soul who brings a guitar and enjoys a round of the iconic Dueling Banjos with an odd looking boy from the hills just before they set off to find the river. Right away, these Hill People seem ominous, but our over-confident suburban warriors aren’t worried. Lewis especially seems too into his survivor-man delusion to realize that they are not on home turf.
The journey stars off fine, like a weekend scout retreat. Their first encounter with the rough water leaves the boys feeling like champions, especially Lewis who starts comparing themselves to the first explorers of the American wilderness. That night, they relax and rest easy, even after a fleeting feeling that there may be someone else in the woods.
The next day is when the trip turns deadly. When Ed and Bobby paddle ahead and stop for water, they run into a couple of Mountain Men, one carrying a rifle. The scene plays out slowly, like a tense nightmare and leaves Ed tied with his own belt around his neck to a tree and Bobby sexually assaulted squealing “like a pig.” When Drew and Lewis finally catch up, Lewis shoots the rapist dead with his bow and arrow. Now the boys are facing vengeful Hill People, harsh wilderness and a load of dark secrets that they just want to keep buried under the water. If they make it out alive, how can they hide it from the law, or live with themselves?
The film is as gritty and realistic as it’s rustic setting. With a small budget, the actors did their own stunts. Jon Voight really did scale that cliff and Burt Reynolds broke his coccyx when being thrown down the rapids. For authenticity, many of the hill people were real local residences.
I would not call Deliverance a film everyone can really enjoy watching. It’s the kind that can make you feel very powerless and if you don’t agree with the decision the men make along their journey, it’s harder to connect to them. While the infamous “squeal like a pig” scene can seem like a hillbilly cliché, it really is disturbing and frightening. I don’t plan trusting anyone I find in the woods, whether he’s got all his teeth or not. Now that my husband has seen Deliverance, I don’t think I can ever convince him to go camping.
“Looks like we got us a sow here instead of a boar.”