Movie Review: Lost River

Lost River shows that Ryan Gosling has good taste in movies, but his debut film is an aimless collage of favorites that is too obvious and nonsensical.

Set against the surreal dreamscape of a vanishing city, Billy (Christina Hendricks), a single mother of two, is swept into a macabre and dark fantasy underworld while her teenage son, Bones, discovers a secret road leading to an underwater town. Both Billy and Bones must dive deep into the mystery if their family is to survive.

Lost River has something worthwhile thanks to its cinematography, soundtrack and solid performances.

Benoît Debie provides vivid and engaging imagery of rural decay. This includes dramatic compositions of dilapidated homes, burning houses, and streetlights poking out of a sunken city. The unnamed town referred to as Lost River looks like a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The production did a good job at scouting for locations.

The musical score from Johnny Jewel and songs from other artists provide a soundtrack reminiscent of Drive – electronic tracks mixed with quaint folksy tunes – but that’s not a bad thing as it proved to be great on its own.

Despite being run over by capitalism, there are still a few people too emotionally attached to leave Lost River. The cast turns in great performances and manages to make these underwritten characters sympathetic or interesting. Ben Mendelsohn, whose experiencing a much deserved career boost as a character actor, is the most memorable. He’s brilliant as the scheming perverted douche Dave and the actor’s world weary look added more dimensions to the character. He has rape enabling “shells” but you can also sense that Dave has seen too much lost rivers, thanks to Mendelsohn’s performance.

These elements indicate a good movie brewing underneath all the pretentiousness. Unfortunately, they’re overshadowed by Gosling’s love letter to his influences. The reaction from Cannes isn’t unwarranted.

Lost River has a plethora of references, most of which are from movies that I haven’t gotten around to review because I can’t decide whether they’re crazy brilliant, arty fartsy pretentious, plain weird or all of the above.

You’ll see reflections of  Detropia, Gummo, Black Sunday, Eyes Without a Face, and Blue Velvet. The main influence is Nicolas Winding Refn’s collaborations – Only God Forgives and Drive. The harsh neon lights, cartoonish out of nowhere gore and violence, and odd characters are all there.

It’s understandable that as an artist, your influences will definitely surface in your work.

However, Lost River is lost, sunk in a river of borrowed ideas. In the movie, Bones managed to get a piece to the surface and used it as a weapon. Behind the scenes, Gosling couldn’t make something of his own from all the pieces he has found.

Rather than tackle capitalism and explore the poor souls trying to survive in it, the movie fills the frame with unending images of decay and repackaged references. The narrative is aimless, filled with characters that are tossed into nonsensical situations that screws up their already screwed up life.

Just like a Refn movie, Lost River climaxes into a violent tragedy that makes the lives of its characters worse than it already is. In the end, the movie doesn’t accomplish much beyond revealing Gosling’s Netflix queue.

Overall, Lost River suffers from a problem common in art films – a beautifully set-up feature hiding an obscure weak plot filled with caricatures, all designed to be weird for weirdness sake (see also: The Double, Stoker).

In fairness, even though the movie didn’t turn out to be a cult hit, Lost River isn’t the worst compared to others from actor turned directors. It is beautiful, visually captivating, and comes with a great soundtrack.

He’s able to make an enjoyable quirky Halloween jam through Dead Man’s Bones. If he channels the same amateurish yet amusing dark creative spin to his next effort, maybe we’ll get a crazy brilliant Gosling cult hit.

My Rating: 5/10

Alternative Movie Poster by Jason Pooley

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