FEATURING: Christina Hendricks, Iain De Caestecker, Saiorse Ronan, Matt Smith, Ben Mendlesohn, , Reda Kateb,

PLOT: An urban fantasy/fairy tale set in an unspecified city in decline (which looks a lot like Detroit) where single mom Billy and her sons Frankie and Bones attempt to keep their home despite all obstacles and enemies: for Billy, a bank manager/underground club impresario, and for Bones, the neighborhood gang kingpin, Bully.

Lost River (2014)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Gosling calls Lost River (originally titled How to Catch a Monster) a dark fairy tale, inspired by both the 80’s fantasy films he watched growing up and by a stay in Detroit while acting in The Ides of March. It’s a very unorthodox melding, like lo-fi magic realism set against a documentary background. Some might feel it exploitative, which could account for the polarized reaction the film received.

COMMENTS I guess it’s a gauge of where we’re at in film culture when something like Lost River can arise from sunken depths to befuddle everyone. People were expecting a disaster of epic proportion, judging from its reception at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and the outright hostile reviews during its very brief theatrical run/VOD in the U.S. From that reaction, one would think that Lost River would be better paired with other recent cult “darlings” like The Room or Birdemic.

lost-river-film-ryan-gosling-700x425Happily, Lost River is nowhere near those icons of ineptitude, which makes the reaction to it even more of a curiosity.  Critics seemed to take it personally that a Hollywood Star would actually choose to make his directorial debut an artistic endeavor rather than some flashy franchise production. It is evident that Gosling isn’t at all shy about his influences—he was paying close attention while he was working with and —but I would think that would be something to be encouraged by, rather than excoriated.

Apparently surrealism and dream imagery are only to be attempted when the director is a less well-known name. Either that, or most reviewers felt very uncomfortable with the approach in conjunction with the Detroit setting. There are several scenes with non-actors which briefly push the tone into docudrama, which is completely jarring with the “urban fairy tale” atmosphere Gosling is attempting to create.

lost river artGosling’s direction is very assured, aided by the lensing of Benoit Debie (Enter the Void) and the music of Johnny Jewel, which provide the proper atmosphere. Performances are pretty good all around: Hendricks, DeCaestecker and Ronan are fine, though it’s mainly the supporting characters that make an impression, such as Mendes, Mendlesohn and especially Matt Smith’s villainous turn, which is as far away from his Doctor Who as possible. One caveat: it seems a waste to get Barbara Steele and give her nothing to do. She’s more of a presence than a full character.

Whatever you might think of Lost River, I highly encourage you to search it out and make up your own mind.

Available on Blu-Ray and DVD with no additional features.


“Indulgent and movie-like, Lost River is Gosling’s weird, let’s-do-this-thing folly.”–Brad Wheeler, The Globe and Mail (contemporaneous)

One thought on “LIST CANDIDATE: LOST RIVER (2014)”

  1. Aside from the too-pat ending, I found “Lost River” very haunting – easily among the best recent releases. But, even with the “urban fable” tone, I wish the family actually felt like they had lived in their condemned home for years rather than just having moved in to play a family for the film (perhaps more back story, complexity or visits from friends who moved away, etc). The night club scenes were suitably ghastly and worked as an excoriation of modern America’s cultural decline. And…there’s more than enough weird imagery to quality this film for the list.

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