Review: Ryan Gosling’s Lost River

Ryan Gosling has worked with an impressive array of contemporary auteurs – from Nicolas Winding Refn to Derek Cianfrance – so it is not entirely surprising that he makes the move behind the camera for avant-garde piece, Lost River, his debut project as a writer-director.

The actor wears these aforementioned influences with pride throughout the picture – a shapeless yet undeniably captivating and visually mesmerising vehicle. Gosling’s tale is set in a derelict rural town which serves as the bleak canvas for his story of grimy fetishistic desires, lust for power, and desolate attempts at survival to unfold upon. Gosling’s film is a Lynchian nightmare incorporating elements of the violent revenge film alongside vague glimpses at abandoned life and lost youth.

Filming in the derelict playground of Detroit, Gosling teams-up with Gaspar Noé’s regular cinematographer, Benoît Debie, to craft an atmosphere ripe with an eerie emptiness and despair. From abandoned theatres to the charred remains of wooden houses, Lost River takes a lingering look at the haunting sparseness of these locations, giving the film and ghost town of Lost River a near post-apocalyptic atmosphere. An enigmatic synth-driven score from Johnny Jewel featuring The Chromatics (from the Drive soundtrack) and several of the cast adds to striking tone of Gosling’s debut.

The broken qualities found in the desolate architecture are paralleled within the residents of Lost River. Intertwining narrative tangents follow those well-past the brink of desperation: from single mother, Billy (Christina Hendricks), enacting galvanistic death fantasies for Ben Mendelsohn’s Frank Booth like bank manager/nightclub owner/torture show emcee and hordes of blood-hungry town residents, to her eldest son, Bones (Iain De Caestecker), fighting for survival against the town’s malicious copper thief (Matt Smith). There’s a slow-burning romance between lost youths, Bones and his neighbour Rat (Saoirise Ronan), added into the equation, alongside a subplot about the latter’s mute, grief-stricken Grandmother who watches her wedding video on repeat – played by veteran Mario Bava/Roger Corman scream queen Barbara Steele (complete with gothic black veil). These tales never gel particularly well, but each is crafted in such a majestic visual fashion that they each remain consistently engaging. Allusions to curses and the fantastical are looming throughout this narrative – although Gosling never commits wholeheartedly to the concept, only allowing small enigmatic moments to creep through.

The esoteric Lost River is an ambitious melting pot stowed with an abundance of influences from vast tangents of the cinematic landscape and cultural spectrum. From photographer Andrew Moore, stopping by Malick, Lynch, Jodorowsky and Noé – hell, even John Waters’ Desperate Living feels like an influence – Lost River is certainly going to be devoured by fans of cult cinema. Even with this multitude of influences, there is nothing directly like this derelict gothic fairytale – it is a bold, uncompromising and unashamedly ‘cult’ treat that provides a striking experience for both the mind and the senses. Lost River may have failed to impress most critics, but I can safely say Gosling’s is a voice that I would be fascinated to hear more of.


Also featured on The People’s Movies.

Leave a Reply