- Directors: John Boorman
- Producers: John Boorman
- Writers: Novel, James Dickey, Screenplay, James Dickey, Uncredited, John Boorman
- Genres: Adventure, Drama, Thriller
- Actors: Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Ronny Cox, James Dickey
Four Atlanta businessmen â€“ Lewis (Reynolds), Ed (Voight), Bobby (Beatty), and Drew (Cox) â€“ decide to canoe down the fictional Cahulawassee River in the remote Georgia wilderness, expecting to have fun and see the glory of nature before the river valley is flooded over by the upcoming construction of a dam and lake. Lewis, an experienced outdoorsman, is the de facto leader. Ed is also a veteran of several trips but lacks Lewis’ machismo. Bobby and Drew are novices.
From the start, it is clear the four are far from what they know as civilization. The locals are crude and unimpressed with the presence of outsiders, and the film implies some of them are inbred. Drew briefly connects with a local banjo-playing boy by joining him in an impromptu bluegrass jam. But when the song ends, the boy turns away without saying anything, refusing Drew’s handshake. The four “city boys”, as they are called by one of the locals, exhibit a slightly condescending attitude towards the locals (Bobby in particular is patronizing).
Traveling in pairs on the river, the foursome’s two canoes are briefly separated. Pausing briefly to get their bearings, Bobby and Ed encounter a pair of unkempt hillbillies (Bill McKinney and Herbert ‘Cowboy’ Coward) emerging from the woods, one wielding a loaded shotgun. After a stray comment about a moonshine still offends the hillbillies, Bobby is forced at gunpoint to strip naked. McKinney’s character chases after and physically harasses Bobby as he tries to escape. His ear is twisted to bring him to his hands and knees, and he is then ordered to “squeal like a pig” as McKinney’s character proceeds to rape him. Ed is bound to a tree with his own belt, helpless as McKinney’s character violently sodomizes Bobby.
When they finally reach their destination, the town of Aintry (which will soon be submerged by the dammed river, and is being evacuated), they take the injured Lewis to the hospital while the Sheriff comes to investigate the incident. True to Lewis’s predictions, one of the deputies is related to the deceased hillbillies, and is highly suspicious. The three carefully concoct a cover story for the authorities about Drew’s death and disappearance being an accident, lying about their ordeal to Sheriff Bullard (played by author James Dickey) in order to escape a possible double murder charge. The sheriff clearly doesn’t believe them, but seems to have figured out what actually happened. After thinking it over, he simply tells the men: “I don’t ever wanna see you around here again… I’d kinda like to see this town die peaceful.” The three readily agree. The three vow to keep their story a secret for the rest of their lives, which proves to be psychologically burdensome for Ed: in the final scene, Ed awakes screaming from a nightmare in which a dead man’s hand rises from the lake.