Ryan Gosling’s Lost River

I think that sometimes there may be a certain expectation set when an already minted Hollywood superstar branches off from the acting game and tries their hand at writing/directing, a vague conjecture that their foray into filmmaking will be more of the same stuff that fans are used to. Well, Ryan Gosling has no use for any of that in his stunning, surreal, masterful and wonderfully otherworldly directorial debut Lost River, a haunting, dreamlike slice of Detroit Gothic wrapped in a dark fairytale that casted a spell on me like no other film has. This is arthouse stuff through and through, Gosling has no interest pandering to the masses or sculpting his work into something wieldy or palatable, he courageously dives headfirst off the map into uncharted territory where there be monsters and visions the likes of which your screen has never seen. In a crumbling, decrepit borough of old Detroit, single mother Billy (Christina Hendricks) struggles to keep her family home from being seized by the bank and demolished, so she takes up employment from oily loan officer Dave (Ben Mendelsohn) working at the club he owns as a moonlight gig, where dancers like the beautiful Cat (Eva Mendes in a wonderfully playful turn, her last acting gig to date) pantomime being murdered on stage for a rapt audience. Meanwhile Billy’s son Bones (Iain de Caestecker) runs wild in the overgrown, labyrinthine basilicas, ragged chain-link fence desolation and jungled ruins of their Lost River county, collecting copper piping for cash, evading a very strange and violent bully named, uh, ‘Bully’ (a feral Matt Smith) and forming an ethereal bond with a lonely wandering waif called Rat, played by Saoirse Ronan in a lovely study of calculated, underplayed wonderment. Many have complained that this film is style over substance and that there isn’t really a plot to speak of supporting all the visual and auditory splendour but they’re kind of missing the point here; this is an abstract parable that refracts aspects and elements of our waking material world through a very primal, subconscious and childlike prism of images, impressions and emotions, I don’t think Gosling ever meant to tell a constructed story with delineated edges and beats, he strives for the fluid, the intangible, the kind of film you feel your way through as opposed to think. There is a strong undercurrent of deep, essential meaning here that can be very, very finely tuned into as a sort of subconscious frequency and in that sense what the film imparts to you could be called a ‘plot,’ but if you’re not tuned into it well… that’s your problem, really, and to say there’s no story or meaning just because you can’t quantify it with your waking consciousness is simply narrow, lazy criticism. Gosling employs the talents of musician Jonny Jewel to compose a suitably synth soaked, absolutely gorgeous score that is accented by several cast members doing singing of their own including Ronan and Mendelsohn, who belts out a transfixing, unforgettable rendition of Marty Robbins’ Cool Water in his eerie nightclub. The cinematography is bliss, from said club to it’s austere archway entrance that can be seen on the film’s poster to a ghostly underwater town long flooded to develop neighbourhoods that are swiftly falling beautiful ruin and the spectral, vegetative barrens of their environment around them, speckled with broken architectural curios and slowly being reclaimed by nature. I try not to use the ‘M’ word too much in my writing (that’s a big fat lie) but there are some films that I just vibe with so deeply and care for so much as immersive experiences that one can scarcely put into words (I hope I’ve made out alright here) that there’s just no way around it: to me, Lost River is a masterpiece, Gosling and everyone involved should be immensely proud of what they’ve made and how it will affect many like me who were powerfully moved by it.

-Nate Hill

Remi Weekes’ His House

It’s always neat to see a haunted house film that isn’t just about your average middle class American partridge family moving into a spacious New England manor. Additionally it’s refreshing when said haunted house film doesn’t rely on the usual book of tricks, jump scares, possessions, furniture flying around in invisible tornadoes or the usual garble that clutters up story. Remi Weekes’ His House is a disarmingly masterful horror film that isn’t just horror for the sake of chills, it’s actually about something important on more than one level and it’s about as assured, well crafted and terrifying as a director’s debut in the genre could be. The film focuses on a Sudanese couple (Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku) escaping their war torn country and arriving in the UK as refugees, ready to start a new life. They are appointed a slightly scatterbrained social worker (Matt Smith, better than he’s ever been) who sets them up in a spacious yet decrepit council housing unit in a hectic, labyrinthine outer district of London and its here they must adjust to their new circumstances, fit in and heal from the past. The past is key here, because this film is billed as a haunted house flick but there’s this slow realization that whatever is tormenting them isn’t something the home itself has to offer, but something that has followed them across the seas from Africa, a place where the age of reason hasn’t really dawned yet and those nameless fears the West has all but forgotten still abide in the collective unconscious of the people. Soon they hear voices from the perforated walls, whispers in the night, see feverish apparitions and are thoroughly haunted by many spirits, one in particular who knows a dark and dreadful secret from their past that has etched grooves into their already traumatized psyches until they both must face their demons accordingly. This is a terrifying film from a horror standpoint: the scares come fast, fresh and relentless until any minute spent in the house offers a new adrenal stab or potential heart attack inducing scene at any given moment. What really made this film special for me as a viewer was not just the scares, it was *how* this story is told from a narrative, editing, emotional, dream logic and shifting perspective aspect, and if that sounds a bit vague then it is because I don’t quite know how to describe some of the scenes I saw. Much of the film is set in this house but there are nightmarish flashbacks to Sudan and the stormy Mediterranean Sea that are handled in such a uniquely fluid, beautifully creative fashion they really took my breath away. There’s a moment where Dirisu sits alone at the kitchen table against a wall and quietly eats a meal. Then, almost imperceptibly at first, we pan out and as the colour grade slowly burgeons from dull grey to painful ochre red we notice that the kitchen is floating on the ocean… he is in fact dreaming. It’s one of the most wonderful, languid transitions I’ve seen in cinema recently and is alone enough to tell me that Weekes isn’t just a filmmaker to be watched at this point, but already one to be reckoned with. The performances from our two leads are also something special, and overall this film does a very clever, very personal and internal spin on the haunted house flick using dream logic, scintillating perspectives and cerebral fabric to tell a story that gives a voice to humans that often aren’t heard, felt or seen all the time in cinema. A masterwork, and one of the finest films you’ll see this year.

-Nate Hill