“The wolves... if they're not already at your door... they're gonna be there very efin soon.”
Lost River has the potential of becoming a cult film in a few years because it is very artistic and far from being a mainstream movie due to its lack of a cohesive narrative structure and its nightmarish atmospheric approach. Ryan Gosling, who is one of my favorite actors, is the writer and director of Lost River, and for a first feature film I must say that he aimed extremely high. He borrows heavily from directors he’s worked with in the past or that he’s admired, so you can see some heavy influences from Refn, Noe, Cronenberg, and perhaps even more from David Lynch. These aren’t directors that are easy to imitate and therefor Gosling struggles to find his own voice although the result is rather unique. Being an actor that many people like the easiest thing for Gosling would’ve been to direct a mainstream film, but I give him credit for trying to make an artistic film that will be appreciated by a select group of people. I didn’t have any funny watching Lost River, but I did find some of the nightmarish scenes quite disturbing so it isn’t one of those movies you easily forget about. I’m not a fan of surrealism so I’m not the greatest judge for a film like this, but I think that it will find its audience with fans of movies like Enter the Void, Under the Skin or any of Lynch’s films. What Rosling is trying to get at under all the heavy imagery he uses is the desolation that the American Dream has on some people when its not achieved.
Perhaps the most difficult thing to do in a review for a film like this is write a plot summary because it would be easy to confuse the reader and make them believe there is some sort of narrative structure to the movie when in reality it’s more about setting a dreamy atmosphere. The story takes place in a fictional town named Lost River where most of the people have abandoned the place after a nearby flood destroyed the city. It is actually filmed in an abandoned town in Detroit and Gosling experiments by having some residents interact with the actors in a couple of scenes. A young teen named Bones (Iain De Caestecker) dreams of leaving the city knowing there is no future there, but his single mother, Billy (Christina Hendricks), refuses to leave the place where she grew up in. Billy is behind on the payments of her home however, and she is forced by a banker named Dave (Ben Mendelsohn) to accept a job at this sort of dark underground freak show that he owns. Bones’ neighbor, Rat (Saoirse Ronan), who lives with her mute widowed grandmother, tells him that the flood has left a spell on the town and that is why everyone behaves so strange in this city. The streets are owned by a violent man known as Bully (Matt Smith) who Bones gets into trouble with. Meanwhile Billy is introduced to the dark underworld where she works where audiences seem to have a fascination for gore. There she meets one of the performers, Cat (Eva Mendes) who shows her how the place works. The film basically follows these characters and introduces us to the nightmarish town accompanied with a vibrant electric score and neon lights.
The performances in Lost River are solid with Ben Mendelsohn standing out as you can tell he’s having a lot of fun with his character. The film might be all over the place at times, but the talented cast delivers. Iain de Caestecker is the lead actor and his scenes were probably my favorite when it focused on his relationship with Rat and the tension between his character and Bully. Matt Smith is also having a lot of fun with his character and despite not being as menacing a villain his wacky and violent behavior is always hard to predict. As much as I enjoyed Christina Hendricks in the female lead role, the scenes of the dark underworld took me completely out of the movie. It was a freak show that I didn’t care for very much. Reda Kateb has some interesting scenes playing the nice cab driver. There is one scene where he talks to Billy about the American dream which is sort of the underlying message of the film. Overall I felt the movie didn’t balance the two main stories very well and there were scenes that felt disconnected with the rest of the film. Lost River isn’t an easy watch but I still admire Gosling’s effort.