As a first film (writing and directing) for Gosling (Out of the Furnace), the result isn’t a bad festival film. Clearly he has vision, if not quite the talent yet to control it. You get the sense that he spent far too much time watching Lynch films, particularly Blue Velvet, before committing his script to celluloid.
This isn’t to say that the film isn’t worth seeing. It is a not-quite-real world and story that pulls you along, even if the structure never really comes together. It is a landscape and feeling that would live comfortably alongside Only Lovers Left Alive, which could have been filmed around the block in another of Detroit’s decaying neighborhoods. In fact, you could almost see the stories intersecting comfortably, though they’ve nothing in common with one another. In visual language it also reminded me of Spring, trying to find the beauty and life-force in decay, though Lost River is decidedly more fantastical in its imagery and, again, nothing like Spring in structure or intent.
Gosling collected a good cast to sell his vision. Amusingly most of them are (rather successfully) taking on American accents: De Caestecker (The Fades, Agents of SHIELD), Ronan (Grand Budapest Hotel) , and Smith (Doctor Who) do this in the primary roles in the younger cast as they navigate the hellish world around them.
Rounding out the story for the adults are Hendricks (Struck by Lightning) and, also with accent, Mendelsohn (Adore). Hendricks, in particular, is an odd choice as she doesn’t look quite old enough to be the mother of her children. Perhaps that was part of the point and she does deliver on her performance, but it is a bit jarring.
The story itself is a weird indictment of society. It clearly has a strong opinion of humanity and how the world works, but it also seems to be lacking the language to express it. As a first try, it is interesting. As a movie on its own, it is somewhat forgettable and unoriginal, though it tries hard to shock. It will be interesting to see what he comes up with next time he takes a break from being in front of the lens. This particular movie is one you’ll have to decide for yourself. It isn’t a lost evening, but you can probably find something more worthy of your time.