Lost River is actor Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut and it’s about a rundown, abandoned city that rolls on because it doesn’t appear to have anything else to do. Plus it has an Italian Giallo fetish, those famous, beautifully gruesome horror films the began creeping into cinemas in the 1960s.
The movie centers on a mother named Billy (Christina Hendricks) and her son Bones (Iain De Caestecker). Yes, there are their names. We also will get Rat, Cat, Bully and, for the hell of it, Dave. Billy is struggling with all sorts of financial issues and in order to save her home, she takes work at a local club that specializes in verbal and physical violence towards women; all faked of course. Bones meanwhile is trying to raise funds via stripping empty homes for raw materials, an act that raises the ire of a local baddie (Matt Smith).
What Gosling has made here is a beautiful looking, terrific sounding picture that screams its influences so loudly it has little voice of its own. Lost River so regularly plays like an updated Blue Velvet that one’s eyes begin to roll. Nasty pieces of work do some lounge-singing. Innocents are allured to the shadier sides of life. Women tremble in fear. Gosling’s first foray into filmmaking is not conventional by some means, but for anyone familiar with Lynch, Dario Argento or Mario Bava, it will ring too familiar. Wonderful directors to tip a cap towards sure, yet Gosling doesn’t establish a voice of his own and the similarities keep Lost River from taking flight.
It is damn gorgeous to look at though, with cinematography from the great Benoit Debie, who does for dilapidated small-town America what he did to lavish hotspots in Spring Breakers. The intimacy and freshness of nature is wonderfully contrasted with the creaking and crumbling town that strives for existence amidst it. Add to that Johnny Jewel’s pulsating score and Lost River does work in moments, particularly the ones where the larger narrative seems out the window. A scene of Bones staring into the murky water of a lake to see the remains that lie beneath it is a striking setting.
The film too often is preoccupied with the weird, as if raising a freak-flag will give it depth. One characters breaks into an impromptu jig because, hey, it’s weird to do at the moment. Elsewhere a foreign cabbie gives sage advice, as one does in such a picture. A bike is on fire and passes in slow-mo, for it must be lingered on to show the insanity of the city. These can all occur in a good narrative. They merely feel like surface level oddities in Lost River.
Gosling’s career behind the camera may be skipping away from Oscar longings, a standard of many actors turned directors. Unfortunately, until he finds his own vein to tap into, his work on screen will likely be more compelling.