Take Me to the River Movie Plot Explained - The True Meaning of the Film

By Klein Felt Posted:
Take Me to the River Plot

Take Me to the River's dramatic plot leaves audiences guessing on a few major threads by the end. 

The 2015 movie from director Matt Sobel follows Ryder (played by Logan Wright) a gay California teen who gets caught up in some potential controversy while visiting his conservative-leaning family in rural Nebraska. 

While originally released almost a decade ago, the drama has risen to prominence again in recent months as it is now streaming on free streaming platforms like Tubi and Freevee. 

Breaking Down the Take Me to the River Plot

 Logan Wright as Ryder sitting next to his mother Cindy on a barn wall in Take Me to the River
Take Me to the River

Take Me to the River sets most of its story on a farm in rural Nebraska, following Ryder as he becomes embroiled in a plot against him by his fellow family members. 

The movie takes place while Ryder and his parents are on a family vacation. After moving to California and starting a family, Ryder's mother Cindy is brought back to her roots, spending time on the family farm she grew up on (land that is now owned by her brother, Keith). 

However, things take a turn for the worse early on in their stay as Ryder is accused of potentially sexually assaulting his nine-year-old cousin, Molly. 

The Family Picnic

At a family picnic, Ryder is stolen away to hang out with Molly in the family's nearby barn. While there, the two play on the bails of hay and even partake in some chicken fighting (where Molly gets up on Ryder's shoulders). 

After some time away from the rest of the family, tensions are raised when Molly comes running back from the barn with blood on the lower part of her dress. 

This causes Molly's father (and Ryder's uncle) Keith to point a finger at the queer teen, accusing him of being the cause of the blood. 

While never outright saying it, it is implied Keith thinks Ryder may have assaulted his daughter in the barn, causing the bleeding that stained her dress. Cindy speculates the blood could be from another source like the young girl getting her period for the first time, but Keith is not having any of it. 

During this conflict, audiences get the first hint that things between Keith and Cindy are weird (to say the least). Keith is very dismissive of his sister, and there almost seems to be some unresolved bitterness between the two adult siblings. 

This emotional strain between the siblings is further put on display layer that night, as Ryder is essentially shunned from the farmhouse he was staying in.

With her son forced to spend the night in another decaying building elsewhere on the property, Cindy comes to join Ryder, very obviously crying while trying to sleep on the floor next to him. 

A Tension-Filled Lunch

Ryder's drama-filled visit to the farm comes to a head the next day during an incredibly tense afternoon visit to his uncle's house for lunch (or what they call dinner). 

After waking up that morning to find his family car vandalized with the words "GO HOME" and "CALIFORNIA PERVERT" splayed across its sides, Ryder is curiously invited for a meal with his uncle, aunt, and cousins. While there, Keith continues to threaten Ryder under the guise of trying to make amends. 

It is incredibly uncomfortable for Ryder as Keith forces him to sing at the table, asks about girls in his life (to which Ryder bites his tongue as he is gay and has not told his extended family), and even teaches the Californian teen how to handle a gun. 

The entire sequence features several more allusions to something being up with why Ryder's mother left the farm. Uncle Keith talks about Cindy leaving to get away and that she used to "tease" all the local boys when she was younger. 

Things here get even more weird as Keith ushers Ryder toward Molly, almost forcing the two to spend time together despite the damning accusations he had been lobbing Ryder's way just a day earlier. 

Swimming in the River and a Revelatory End

This visit with Keith and his family ends with Ryder and Molly hopping atop two horses and supposedly heading back to their grandmother's farmhouse. 

The pair take a bit of a detour though as Molly wants to swim in a local creek. Ryder takes some convincing from the nine-year-old, but they both end up in the water, and Molly again ends up on Ryder's shoulders.

That is when the audience gets a clue as to what may have happened in the barn. As Molly sits atop her cousin's shoulders, she begins to writhe and grind on Ryder's head. The young girl seemingly derives some sort of pleasure from the experience and Ryder is made instantly uncomfortable. 

This is further explored as Ryder is eventually abandoned by his cousin and has to walk back to his grandmother's where he is staying. 

Upon entering the bright yellow farmhouse Ryder sees that Keith and Molly are sitting at a table alongside his parents. 

The idea of chicken fighting (the activity seen in both the river and the barn) is brought up and Keith mentions that Ryder's mom was an enthusiastic participant in the practice growing up, which makes Cindy well up and get emotional. 

Keith and Molly leave, and Cindy goes rushing out into the front yard. Ryder follows her close behind confronting his mother about what happened and why she left the farm in the first place. 

While it is not expressly said, it is assumed some form of potential sexual abuse was going on between Cindy and her brother Keith when they were growing up. 

Ryder tells his mom, "You didn't know," alluding to Keith perhaps taking advantage of his sister, something that he has seemingly passed down to his young girls. 

The movie ends as Ryder and his family sit silently in the car. Cindy is still visibly shaken by the events of the visit, just stewing in the trauma from her childhood that had been brought up. 

Take Me to the River is now streaming on Tubi, Freevee, and Roku. 

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- About The Author: Klein Felt
Klein Felt is a Senior Editor at The Direct. Joining the website back in 2020, he helped jumpstart video game content on The Direct. Klein plays a vital role as a part of the site's content team, demonstrating expertise in all things PlayStation, Marvel, and the greater entertainment industry.