Every so often a news story pops up about a Westerner being arrested in Southeastern Asia. These are normally backpackers or students on gap years and it’s normally in the area formerly known as Indochina. Whether it be Vietnam, Thailand, Laos or Cambodia, the reason behind the arrest it’s almost always for drug offences. In Canadian director Jamie M Dagg’s debut feature he uses an exotic backdrop to frame a very different crime.

John Lake (Rossif Sutherland) is an American doctor working for a NGO based in Laos who travels to the south of the country for a break. After having a few drinks in a local bar he happens upon an Australian (Aidan Gillett) he met earlier in the process of sexual assaulting a local girl. John intervenes but gets carried away and kills him. When the body is found the next days he goes on the run in a desperate attempt to reach the nearest US embassy.

What makes River such an intriguing watch is the location. The backdrop really is the star here, and whilst Rossif Sutherland does a decent job, the film itself is too truncated to make his desperate flight feel either tense or gripping. Dagg stretches the plot too thinly and the late addition of another element just seems forced. However, the River has much to like and it’s an impressive first outing, despite the flaws.

River is released on DVD by Kaleidoscope Entertainment on Monday.