In a decaying city, Billy, a single mother of two is swept into a dark and macabre underworld, while her teenage son Bones discovers a secret road that leads him to a underwater town. Billy and her son will have to make it to the end for their family. Reviewed at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.

Lost opportunity.

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL: A gruesome fairy tale of evil banks and sunken dreams, Lost River is a fantastically awful misfire from actor turned writer/director Ryan Gosling.

Gosling draws inspiration from the work of his recent collaborators, Derek Cianfrance and Nicolas Winding Refn, and lifts from David Lynch's playbook for the look, feel and story (such as it is) of his derivative debut feature.

The abandoned houses of Detroit lay a suitably miserable foundation for a fable about toxic debt. The director (and his excellent cinematographer Benoit Debie) savour the decaying urban wasteland, in series of ghastly, shocking, meticulously production-designed cutaways. But there are no Big Ideas lurking in the flimsy narrative, and good actors are left to skirt dangerously close to panto.

The broad synopsis of this fairy tale looks at the lengths to which a single mother (Christina Hendricks as ‘Billy’) would go, to avoid defaulting on her mortgage. Billy’s attempt to renegotiate terrible loan terms fails, and the sleazy wolf of this tale is her bank manager (Ben Mendelsohn, ‘Dave’), who offers her work in the macabre vaudevillian fetish den he manages on the side. (Try not to think of that next time you apply for an overdraft at your local branch).

Meanwhile, while her oldest son, 'Bones' (Iain De Caestecker channelling his director) steals metal scraps to fund the repairs to the jalopy that is his only viable means of escape. At night, Bones and his wannabe girlfriend ‘Rat’ (Saoirse Ronan, wasted) are stalked by local geezer thug king ‘Bully’ (Matt Smith, playing to the back row), who sits atop an actual throne, affixed to his souped-up motor city chariot, in case the fairy tale references are too oblique (they’re not).  

An urban myth blames the residents' poor fortunes on a curse of bad town planning, which gives meaning to the film’s (and the town’s) name; partially submerged lamp-posts point to the existence of a city long-since drowned. 

Gosling seems to want to 'say' something about the surreal inner lives of neglected people, but the limitations of his visual storytelling technique reduce whatever those Big ideas are, to a hoary 'American Dream Nightmare' metaphor, which he rams home with countless cutaways to a burning bungalow. 

The film was originally called ‘How To Catch A Monster’, but that title suggests a call to action that this pretty-but-passive film lacks.  'Lost River' has the bland mystique of a paperback you might flick through on a bored stopover, if the cover art caught your eye. As a missed opportunity for its fledgling director, the new title is also drowning in irony. It's a messy, indulgent, inauspicious debut for Gosling, but maybe there's a better film in him that's yet to surface.