A single mother is swept into a dark underworld, while her teenage son discovers a road that leads him to a secret underwater town.
"Get out of here while you can"
There's a lot to that old adage "where there's smoke, there's fire." In the lead up the release of 'Lost River' - actor Ryan Gosling's writing and directorial debut - there were numerous reports that the final film was a complete and incomprehensible mess. Because the film sat on shelves awaiting release - a reputation grew until this film became legendary before it was actually released for a public to openly consume. Some called 'Lost River' a marriage between David Lynch and Nicolas Winding Refn while some called it a bizarre misfire that reeked of a film school student's artistic self indulgence. 'Lost River' turns out to be all of these things and none of them at the same time. Simply put, it's an experience.
Billy (Christina Hendricks) is an out of work mother of two who is several payments behind on her mortgage. In the town of Lost River, homes are going under due to the housing crisis and people are forced to take buyouts for their property because the land is worth far more than the house sitting on it. As Billy attempts to negotiate new terms on her loan with an unsavory bank manager named Dave (Ben Mendelsohn) Billy's oldest son Bones (Iain De Caestecker) runs around town to all of the abandoned properties to strip the structures of copper piping that he sells for auto parts.
Without any kind of meaningful income Billy is put in the position of taking Dave up on a mysterious job offer, something under the table that could be incredibly profitable depending on her level of participation. As Bones strips more houses, he draws the ire of a local gang leader called Bully (Matt Smith) who is out to kill Bones. Bones' neighbor Rat (Saoirse Ronan) takes a liking to him and tells him about the truth of Lost River, that the town used to have a theme park before the river was dammed. She believes the dam became the curse that brought the entire town to its knees.
With Bones preoccupied with Rat and dodging Bully, Billy see's Dave's exclusive club. People of influence and money gather each night in what used to be the center of town to watch a performance. The beautiful Cat (Eva Mendes) begins to sing a song when a masked man comes out on stage and begins to savagely stab the woman with a butcher knife spraying blood out onto the cheering crowd. Only it's all an act. It's a fantasy allowing people to see and do unto others that they wouldn't normally be able to in every day life. Billy is to be Dave's next performer - only if she really want's to make some immediate money she's going to have to something more than perform on stage. Deep below the theater Dave has set up a sort of sensory depravation machine, where the person enters, and then someone else determines when they leave, toying with them the entire time. Billy and her family must go to extreme lengths in order to survive the decaying city of Lost River.
My first response when I finished watching 'Lost River' was "what the hell did I just see?" So much of this film initially feels like it's been cribbed from the works of so many other directors. David Lynch's 'Lost Highway,' Nicolas Winding Refn's 'Drive,' Terrence Malick's 'Tree of Life,' Michael Cimino's 'Heaven's Gate,' Vincent Gallo's 'Brown Bunny,' and even Tommy Wiseau's 'The Room' were the names and title's that kept floating through my head as I watched the beginning of this film. Then 'Lost River' settled into it's own groove and became something so hypnotically beautiful that it become impossible to look away from.
That isn't to say I can make much sense of what's happening at any given time. It took a lot of thought and digestion after I finished 'Lost River' to even be able to pull together that summation. Is it incomprehensible? Not quite. Is it confusing as all get out? You bet. But that's okay - it's so visually beautiful that any initial confusion is easily forgivable. The film can easily be described as a fairy tale where you're supposed to imply your own allegorical meaning to the piece.
For me 'Lost River' is definitely an oddity. It tries to be a lot of things all at once, a drama, an allegory, a dream or nightmare committed to film. It's all of these and none at the same time - that's a convoluted statement I know, but for how much the film works, it fails. The performances aren't at fault here - in fact they're the best part of the film. Kudos to Men Mendelsohn for delivering yet another creepy, wormy, and sleazy performance you can't help but watch. Matt Smith was also a lot of fun as the shaved-headed Bully. It took me a few moments to realize it was him without his signature 'Dr. Who' hair style.
In the end, I can't exactly call Ryan Gosling's directorial debut a grand success or a resounding failure. It's something in between making 'Lost River' a decidedly difficult film to review. On one hand I hated it, but then I also couldn't take my eyes off it - so what does that tell you? The best way I can express my feelings for this movie is to suggest that everyone sees it and makes up their own minds about it. I know I'll be seeing this again - at least a few more times and I'm sure how I feel about the film will continue to vacillate between love and hate. I will say that I absolutely loved the music by Johnny Jewel and how it beautifully fit the film. Forget what you've heard in the press so far - if you're at all curious about 'Lost River' I strongly suggest you see it for yourself. I can't call it a great movie, I can't call it a terrible movie - it's its own beast entirely.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Lost River' arrives on Blu-ray thanks to Warner Bros. pressed on a BD25 Disc. Housed in a standard case, the movie comes with an Ultraviolet Digital HD Code. The disc opens directly to a static main menu.
Shot on 35mm in and around Detroit, Michigan, 'Lost River' makes for a beautiful transition to Blu-ray. Color is probably what you're going to appreciate right out of the gate with this film. Primaries have a fantastic pop to them, especially shades of red and deep purples. With film grain nicely retained while being kept in check - detail levels are absolutely striking. From the overgrown weeds taking down abandoned buildings, to facial details, to the cracked paint covering Billy's home - you can see everything with crystal clarity. Black levels and shadows are equally impressive as this is a very dark looking movie much of the time. Crush is never an issue creating an incredible three dimensional feel to the film. It may be a weird movie, but it's certainly something grand to look at and this Blu-ray fully captures Benoît Debie's skills behind a camera.
Continuing its technical achievement - 'Lost River' earns full marks for this beautiful DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track. From the noises of construction equipment, to quiet hikes through weed-covered factories, to Ben Mendelsohn's song number - the mix of 'Lost River' is fantastic. Coupled with with outstanding imaging and the beautiful Johnny Jewel score - there is just so much to hear and appreciate woth this mix. Everything for the most part keeps to the mid ranges allowing all of the key dialogue and sound effects to be heard with crystal clarity. I say key because for whatever artistic reason - or to maintaint the need to be weird - there apparently are some conversations or moments you're just not meant to hear clearly. When these moments happen, it's not a problem with the sound design or this audio track, it's just the movie indulging itself. All around I loved the sound design for this film and this track does it great justice.
Not a single extra feature. If there was ever a movie that needed some extra features to explain itself - this one is it. Maybe WB is trying to turn this one into some sort of cult classic and force a double dip for a full special edition later down the road?
'Lost River' certainly is an experience film. Everyone is likely to react to it differently so I encourage everyone to give it a shot. At first I couldn't be more bored or irritated with the film, but as it progressed I couldn't take my eyes off it. This review isn't likely to be my final word on this film, I feel like I need to see it a few more times to fully appreciate it or decide if I actually hate it. With the stellar audio and video quality 'Lost River' looks and sounds amazing. Sadly the absolute lack of any special features of any kind forces me to call this one as a rental only.