This film is a portrayal of what can happen when society is suddenly absent. In this it is much like 'Lord of the Flies', but with adults. It is centred around a weekend spent canoeing down the Chatooga River. Four city-dwellers decide that they need to get away from it all, and where better than the river that is going to be dammed in about a fortnight?
Lewis (Burt Reynolds) seems initially to be the hero of the story: he is strong, knowledgeable about the woods and the river, and a great shot with his hunting bow. He is not the most popular leader as he is pushy with his group, but his utility is accepted by all. It is he who rescues Ed and Bobby when they have been captured by the hillbillies. However, after his injury, he is unable to help as he is rarely conscious.
Thus the leadership falls to Ed (John Voight). Ed begins the film as the weakest character of the four, with no obvious redeeming character traits. However, his resolve gradually... erm... resolves? At the beginning, he lacked the nerve to shoot a deer, but by the end he has killed the hillbilly that has been firing at Bobby and him.
Bobby (Ned Beatty) is something of a mystery. He is the butt of the group's jokes, seems to have even fewer skills than Ed, who is at least a good shot and a good climber. He is the one who gets abused by the hillbillies, but at the end, he is the who walks away sane.
Drew, the fourth and final member of the group, is the one most scarred by the encounter where Lewis kills the hillbilly. Although either he or the group would have had to die, Drew finds this disturbing, and the fact that they bury the body even more so. He takes his own life by jumping out of the boat whilst not wearing a lifejacket. Drew was played by Ronny Cox.
This film disturbed me hugely after having watched it. The fact that Bobby gets butt-raped by a man with a gene-pool smaller than a spider's piss puddle is just the beginning. When Lewis breaks his leg and the femur pokes out through the skin, that's kind of gross too. And... oh, so much wierdness and grossness.