(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.
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.
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.