Lost River lives up to its title. Prepare to glide through the decay of 'Inconsequential Town U.S.A' about to be swallowed up by an encroaching expansion of a hydro powered dam and the inhabitants desperately clinging to the last gasp of their family home before finding a way out. Billy (Christina Hendricks) resorts to a job in the booming deviant night life in a devilish den run by the snake like owner Dave (Ben Mendelsohn). Meanwhile, Billy's eldest son Bones (Iain De Caestecker) is scavenging and scraping the all but abandoned remains of the rest of the town for the materials to sell off; when he's not being hunted down by self-proclaimed king of the wasteland Bully (Matt Smith). Writer/director Ryan Gosling doesn't appear to have any intention of a political commentary, instead he forks the journey down two distinct tributaries; the adolescents and the adults. One is a dark fairy tale that flips the dynamic of texts like Animal Farm, using animals to play out a very human socio-political class struggle, and uses human characters with animal traits (and names) to challenge or defy the natural order. The other is a psychosexual thriller luring Billy (Christina Hendricks) into hive of capitalist necrophilia in the ruins of the town twitching out it last pulses of life. They sound vastly different, and they are, but they seemed to converge and stick with this reviewer long after viewing.
Gosling's debut shows the actor expressing the influence of frequent collaborators Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines) and Nicholas Winding Refn (Drive, Only God Forgives). Cianfrance makes every space feel like it's going to feel like you're trespassing and Refn assaults you with colour and music to manipulate your mood in every unfolding scene. However, much like Refn, Gosling has an uncompromising ambition to bring this strange little fairy tale vision to life. It wears it's weirdness on it's sleeve.
Smith's Bully is an apex predator. There's no well spoken, reasonable 'time-lord' to be found in this role. He's stalking the dilapidated remains like a wolf toying with rodents before he consumes them. He's not intent to remain a cunning shadowing predator, the bellowing screams are like howls of warning and alarms alerting them to his presence. Ronan's Rat lives in the hollowed remains of what used to be a family in the depths of an attic, with her own rat pet, as the dust covered skeleton merely houses echoes of lives once lived. Her ghostly grandmother (Barbara Steele), is shrouded in black watching her decades old wedding video on a loop and scrambling her already scrambled brain. Hendricks's Billy is dealing with a different kind of wilderness altogether. Here's those that consume entertain themselves with fetishistic acts that are punctuated with blood. While the rest of the cast seem like they're being pushed out of their comfort zone, Mendelsohn slips into Dave's unassuming and seductively dangerous posture. He almost slithers out of a crack in the wall inside the club to subtilely orchestrate the ritualistic acts within.
If there's a weakness in Lost River, it's the character of Bones. De Caestecker doesn't really have any discernible traits or qualities, he simply bares witness and attempts to stay alive. It's a character in assembly for the whole film, in comparison to the vibrant characters and performances, he was lost.
Lost River is absolutely not going to be for everybody but that's precisely why it's worth your time. Gosling's first outing is hopefully not going to be his last.
Directed by: Ryan Gosling
Written by: Ryan Gosling
Starring: Christina Hendricks, Iain De Caestecker, Saoirse Ronan, Matt Smith, Ben Mendelsohn, Eva Mendes, Reda Kateb, Barbara Steele
Blake Howard- follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatmanand listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
BLAKE HOWARD IS A FILM CRITIC & THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF/CO-FOUNDER OF AUSTRALIAN FILM BLOG GRAFFITI WITH PUNCTUATION . BLAKE IS THE HOST OF THE ONE HEAT MINUTE PODCAST. BLAKE IS ALSO A MEMBER OF THE PRESTIGIOUS ONLINE FILM CRITIC SOCIETY (AND A MEMBER OF THE GOVERNING COMMITTEE), IS A CO-HOST OF GAGGLE OF GEEKS ON SYDNEY'S 2SER COMMUNITY RADIO, A COLUMNIST AT THE AUSTRALIAN ONLINE INSTITUTION DARK HORIZONS AND SWAYS THE TOMATO METER WITH ROTTEN TOMATOES APPROVED REVIEWS.