The problem with telling you want happens in Lost River is that no matter how plainly I describe it, this series of events will probably sound like a lot of fun and promise to make for rather interesting viewing. But this film, I’m afraid, delivers neither of those two things.
Sure, it features Ben Mendelsohn as a bank manager and club owner who sings, dances and quotes A$AP Rocky. We see Christina Hendricks ‘slicing her own face off with a scalpel.’ There’s Matt Smith as a psychopathic bully who is actually called Bully and cuts people’s lips off with scissors. And there’s lot more lunacy in this vein, but all of it is so horrendously dull.
For his debut feature as director, Ryan Gosling has created for a mixtape from his favourite films, but he’s only dubbed the stylistic influences and transferred none of what made those films interesting. There are elements borrowed from David Lynch, particularly from Blue Velvet, and from Terence Malick, Dario Argento, Nicholas Winding Refn and Harmony Korine. What we have is tantamount to Gosling’s scrapbook, or an enthusiastic Instagramming session designed to show off his great taste.
The dull plot primarily concerns Billy (Christina Hendricks) and her two sons, Bones (Iain De Caestecker) and Franky (Landyn Stewart). Billy is fighting to keep the family in their house in the ruins of Detroit. Gosling takes pains to indicate his intention for grand allegorical importance, and there is a suggestion throughout that Lost River is somehow a commentary on the real-life fate to have befallen Detroit and many other, similar cities in America. Unfortunately, what Gosling has delivered has only the depth of an Abandoned Porn slideshow.
Lost River features some of the most aggressively stupid visual storytelling I have seen in some time, from nonsensical crabbing camerawork to pointless focus shifting. Some of the blame should probably lay at the feet of the talented but undisciplined cinematographer Benoit Debie, even while he occasionally provides the odd arresting image, the few little pin pricks of light in the darkness that kept me awake until the end of the film.
Not unlike a stereotypical student film made on a grand scale, Lost River is a disaster. I expect those that enjoy it will do so mostly in an ironic way and at the film’s expense. I’ll admit that I did greet the occasional, absurdly earnest line – “Has anyone ever touched your rat, or will I be the first?” for example – with howls of laughter.
But don’t be mistaken, even this kind of enjoyment is rare. Lost River is an absolute dud.