Sunday, April 12, 2015

In Theaters/On VOD: LOST RIVER (2015)

(US - 2015)

Written and directed by Ryan Gosling. Cast: Christina Hendricks, Saoirse Ronan, Iain De Caestecker, Ben Mendelsohn, Eva Mendes, Matt Smith, Barbara Steele, Reda Kateb, Rob Zabrecky, Torrey Wigfield, Landyn Stewart. (R, 95 mins)

When it was shown at the Cannes Film Festival a year ago, LOST RIVER, the writing/directing debut of actor Ryan Gosling, was booed and jeered and declared a pretentious, unreleasable disaster. It seems Cannes audiences had their knives sharpened for Gosling, with LOST RIVER coming a year after the actor starred in Nicolas Winding Refn's ONLY GOD FORGIVES, which got a similar reaction but has already secured a sizable cult following (ONLY GOD FORGIVES is quite brilliant), and that seems to be the path that LOST RIVER will take as well. Recut by Gosling after Cannes and trimmed from 105 to 95 minutes, LOST RIVER isn't any more commercially viable, which is certainly why Warner Bros, who quickly snatched it up at Cannes only to immediately and unsuccessfully try selling it off after the toxic response, shelved it before opting to release it on just three screens and VOD in a stealth burial the likes of which the studio hasn't pulled off since Sondra Locke's RATBOY (1986) or Emir Kusturica's ARIZONA DREAM (1994). That's too bad, because LOST RIVER would probably look stunning on a big screen.

I wonder if anyone from Warners actually bothered watching LOST RIVER before acquiring it or if they saw the words "A Film by Ryan Gosling" and offered a deal on his name recognition alone. While he does appear in major Hollywood movies that pay well (THE NOTEBOOK, CRAZY STUPID LOVE), Gosling is typically drawn to smaller films of the offbeat (LARS AND THE REAL GIRL, DRIVE) or challenging (HALF NELSON, BLUE VALENTINE) sort, and one thing is certain: Gosling made the film he wanted to make with absolutely no concern for commercial appeal or mainstream acceptance. A surreal, one-of-a-kind hybrid of David Lynch, Dario Argento, Stanley Kubrick, Harmony Korine, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Terrence Malick, Michael Mann and quite a bit of Gosling's buddy Refn, with a haunting score by Johnny Jewel (another Refn collaborator) that recalls Goblin, John Carpenter, and Tangerine Dream, LOST RIVER is a triumph of style over substance. Filmed in Detroit, MI, it's also an essential entry in the ongoing cinematic chronicle of the urban blight of the once-mighty Motor City. In recent years, Detroit has taken on the aura of the Bronx in the late '70s and early '80s, providing some starkly effective locations in arthouse horror films by people who typically don't work in the horror genre, like Jim Jarmusch's ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE and David Robert Mitchell's IT FOLLOWS. While Gosling's script leaves a bit to be desired, his eye for shot composition (he definitely has a Kubrickian thing going with center placement and framing), colors, camera movement, and his use of standing ruins in and around the Detroit area are remarkable, with LOST RIVER being perhaps the most visionary fusion of sight and sound since Panos Cosmatos' BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW (2012) and Jonathan Glazer's UNDER THE SKIN (2014). Filled with one striking image after another, it's so compulsively, hypnotically watchable that's zero doubt that the more adventurous, fringe audiences out there will lovingly embrace it.

The plot deals with the last denizens of a dying suburb called Lost River. Billy (MAD MEN's Christina Hendricks) is desperately trying to hang on to her family home in a mostly condemned area where houses are being torn down around her. Three months behind on her mortgage and with two sons--teenage Bones (AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Iain De Caestecker) and young Franky (Landyn Stewart)--she takes a job at a bizarre torture cabaret at the suggestion of sleazy, partially deaf bank manager Dave (Ben Mendelsohn, currently earning raves for the Netflix series BLOODLINE). Bones, meanwhile, tries to help out by raiding the ruins of buildings for copper, only to run afoul of Bully (former DOCTOR WHO star Matt Smith), a terrifying, self-described Lost River crime boss who claims ownership on all the copper in the city. Bones also spends time with the family's only remaining neighbor, Rat (Saoirse Ronan), who lives with her catatonic grandmother (Barbara Steele sighting!), who spends her days in her hoarder's nightmare of a home, dressed in her best and watching footage of her wedding decades earlier. Grandma's husband was killed many years ago in an accident when several towns were purposely flooded to make a reservoir at the edge of Lost River. The towns remain intact underwater, and local legend claims that Lost River's bad fortunes will turn around if someone can bring any kind of artifact from the flooded city to the surface.

The plot doesn't really hang together all that well (and most of what was cut from the Cannes version is said to involve some egregious overacting by Smith), but Gosling and cinematographer Benoit Debie (IRREVERSIBLE, ENTER THE VOID, SPRING BREAKERS) dare you to turn away. LOST RIVER is cult movie fan's wet dream, from the small-town oddness of Lynch, the cold and clinical staging of Kubrick, Bones and Rat's date filled with a neon glow and a Tangerine Dream-ish cue that recalls both Michael Mann's THIEF and Caleb and Mae getting ice cream in Kathryn Bigelow's NEAR DARK, and the endless Argento homages. Apparent Argento superfan Gosling's got a ubiquitous Fulvio Mingozzi-like SUSPIRIA/INFERNO cabbie played by Reda Kateb (at the risk of sounding like of a lecturing, condescending dick, if you get the reference to Mingozzi and cabs in SUSPIRIA and INFERNO, it's a good indication that LOST RIVER could work for you); a blatantly SUSPIRIA-like music cue plays throughout; there's some underwater shots that remind you of the secret flooded room under Mater Tenebrarum's stronghold in INFERNO; and the outside of the club where Billy works looks very similar to the Via de Bagni No. 49 library that Eleonora Giorgi enters in INFERNO (again, if that makes sense, LOST RIVER is for you), as well as the poster art for the Canadian horror film CURTAINS, oddly enough. And if all that isn't enough to get your Eurocult boner on, how can you not be won over by the casting of '60s genre icon Steele (BLACK SUNDAY, THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK) in a small but important role? Say what you will about the movie--true, it's little more than a series of fun and stylish references for the nerdiest of cult movie obsessives and a filmmaker's loving tribute to his Blu-ray and DVD collection--but the presence of Steele really sells Gosling's sincerity. I don't think he had a good idea of what he wanted to say with LOST RIVER, but he sure knew what he wanted it to look and sound like and once in a while, that's enough. What you get out of LOST RIVER depends on how much you bring to it from your own cult cinema experience. Many people will hate this hot mess of a film and you can't really blame them, but Gosling made it for himself first and foremost. However, if you're among those who "get" it, LOST RIVER might be 2015's most fascinating flawed masterpiece so far.

No comments:

Post a Comment