Gone (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Gone (2012)

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

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It's scary being alone. Literally or figuratively, of course.

Jill (Amanda Seyfried) is in both states of the word: her last remaining relative, her sister Molly (Emily Wickersham), has vanished from their locked house in the middle of the night. No one believes the terrified Jill that she's certain that Molly's been kidnapped, leaving only her to unravel the clues by sundown. The police force, convinced Jill is a danger to herself and others, unceasingly attempt to track her down.

If the story and scale of Gone feels like something that's eked out of lousy television drama ("Cold Case Files"! "Missing Persons"! "CSI"! Possibly "How I Met Your Mother"! (I've never seen that show)), it's only because this type of story has become rote in the last decade of serialized drama. Notice that I said 'type' of story; television dramas churn out the same uninspired formula week in and week out, with our stoic lead male detective, sexy but serious female lead and a cadre of wacky but smart side characters churning about with a mess of uninspired puns between commercial breaks.

And goddamn is that formula boring. Thank god Gone and director Heitor Dhalia  have taken the lyrics and switched up the music, taking a run of the mill "I've got to find the kidnappers before it's too late!" plot and layering it with female anxieties out the proverbial wazoo.

She's gone! *gasp* Gone! *gasp* Gone!

While the plot description make Seyfried's journey sound propelled by the possibility of saving her sister's life, in actuality the thrust of the film gets to the heart of fear: she needs to be believed. Jill has had previous dealings with this kidnapper, and has fought a system that's never taken her claims of such seriously. Why should they? She has no proof outside of her word, and as a young woman, it's easiest for the cops to just disregard her.

This gives the film a fascinating texture. I'm used to slasher films or thrillers that set one woman up, ready to be victimized for 90 minutes at the hands of a sadistic madman. Gone cleverly reverses that, making the obstacles of the film not the traps that are put in her path but a persistent police force, hellbent on stopping her on her quest in an attempt to prove themselves better and smarter than she.

There's a lot of angst related to masculinity that abounds throughout the film as well. Men lurk in the shadows of Jill's subconscious, and even offhand footsteps deeply unsettle her even over a year since she last ran into the kidnapper. She's became the victimized woman embodied, and the courage and verve she shows throughout Gone are a credit to a character who lives in fear but refuses to let her past overcome her.

It's a stronger female character than you're used to seeing-- not the near-genderless Gina Carano of Haywire and definitely not the useless fucktoy of Underworld: Awakening-- but a competent, driven one who's clever and unyielding almost to the brink of ruin. It owes a large debt to Roman Polanski's Repulsion in many regards, as the lingering unblinking gazes and flirtations of men lord over Jill's continued perceived helplessness.

Portland is a big character in this movie, from the quiet unease to the looming endless forest.

That gaze continues to the camera, as it swoops and pans over acres of woods. The setting is Portland, Oregon, which never fails to feel like a place where an earthy, damp creep threatens to engulf anyone who stands up against it. The outlying forest is a major presence, as the camera stalks Seyfried through her silent, dangerous journeys there.

Red herrings litter the plot of Gone, which allows it to continuously mess with audience expectations until the sudden and surprising climax of the film. The real world is messy and dangerous, with threats unrecognizable oftentimes from the passive, and the film wisely acknowledges this.

I briefly want to touch on the end of the film, which is both sudden and kind of amazing. Skip past the next picture if you don't want to know the ending.

The beauty of the red herring approach that I described two paragraphs up is that it completely floors you when absolutely none of them pan out. When we finally see the kidnapper's face, he's as foreign to us as he is Jill. This works extraordinarily well as Dhalia's points become pointed-- she wouldn't recognize him. We wouldn't either. Even though we've seen plenty of creepy faces paraded before us, that's because when you live the life of an untrusted victim, everyone is a threat.

What Seyfried does here is important, as, though she's completely caught off guard, it's only because the killer has modified his approach. As soon as she manages to account for this variance, she's in charge and powerful. If through the entire film Dhalia was trying to create in the audience a sense of doubt to Jill's sanity, it's quickly subverted as she takes control and metes out a swift/brutal vengeance to the person who separated her from the rest of humanity.

And that's also where the film's climax really stuns, because the story's moment of truth isn't between Jill and the kidnapper, but when the police officers finally realized that Jill was telling the truth. It's an extremely odd thing for a thriller to do, but it works. That's the payoff, right there, that sudden realization. I've never seen anything quite like that before, and it honestly kind of floored me.

One half of a Persona shot. Not saying that that's unintentional.

Hilariously, a lot of the criticisms I'm seeing for Gone are chiding it for being similar to a television drama while complaining about the necessity of its erratic plotting. Screaming at the sky why something is both so familiar and not familiar enough is insanity to me. The movie creates those moments of doubt and creepiness for specific and easily identifiable reasons; using that as a point of contention while simply labeling it 'stupid' is an insult to critical thought.

Gone wisely avoids genre trappings, elevating it to an exciting and fascinating document on the real scariness unto the female condition. While it has its goofy moments (including one late car chase for no particular reason), Seyfried sells her scared, intense troubles in a beguiling roller coaster of a package.

P.S. -- Another minor spoiler, but this really tickled me. In the trailer, near the end, Seyfried yells, "WHERE IS SHE?" and, through the magic of trailer editing, in the next shot we see her sister from the back walking towards their home. I chuckled since, unless you'd seen the movie, you'd have no idea that the ending was just spoiled. It's a pretty crappy trailer as it ruins much of the suspense of the first act of the movie, but I liked that bit.

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Posted by Danny

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  1. so interesting to see a positive review of this movie.

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