Judge Gordon Sullivan is heading to the desert. It's safer.
Our review of Gone (2011), published August 17th, 2011, is also available.
Nothing will stop her.
The Pacific Northwest is coming back with a vengeance. It was the site of all that was weird in the Nineties, thanks to Twin Peaks, but soon after, other shows started look at the dark underbellies of other cities from Las Vegas (CSI) to Miami (Dexter, CSI: Miami). I guess people have grown tired of murder in the sun, because it seems there's a trend in setting stories back in Twin Peaks country again. Excepting Portlandia, several darker shows have made the region their home, including The Killing and Grimm. With Gone, the trend is hitting the big screen. Though I doubt Portland will be putting this one in its tourist literature, it's a decent little thriller for those with lowered expectations.
Facts of the Case
A year ago, Jill Parrish (Amanda Seyfried, In Time) emerged from the dense woods outside of Portland, having escaped a serial killer. Today, she got home from work to find that her sister Molly (who's been staying with her for the last six months) is missing. She's got a test later in the day and she's the responsible type, so there's no way she just skipped out. Jill is convinced that the killer who abducted her (and was never caught) tried again but took her sister instead. She takes her story to the cops, but since there was no evidence in Jill's kidnapping, they're reluctant to pursue Molly. Jill takes it upon herself to catch the killer before her sister becomes a victim.
Watching Gone made me reflect on just how often that film and television assumes that when a person is missing, they've been kidnapped. Sure, there's often a character who thinks someone's missing, but isn't believed, but once the hero shows up, skepticism often goes out the window in a manic race towards catching the bad guy. To its credit, this is one of the only films I've seen that really drove home the horror in what feels like a natural way.
I also feel like the film gets Jill's character right. We have obvious reasons to suspect that she's not quite sane (like the fact that there's no physical evidence that she was abducted), but also every reason to believe that Molly is really missing. Whereas most films would probably make her the forthright heroine searching for her sister, Gone has Jill lie at the drop of a hat to get what she needs. Her willingness to lie and the rapidity with which the lies come to her makes the audience question her other stories without being too heavy handed.
The film also wisely chooses Portland as its setting. A brighter, more familiar environment (like Los Angeles) would be too light to sustain the level of suspense the film is going for. Similarly, an overly urban environment (like New York) would be too oppressive. Portland, however, is a bit dark, a bit woodsy, but not oppressively so. It helps that the HD cinematography makes the area look inviting as well.
That cinematography is given a strong presentation on this 2.40:1/1080p AVC-encoded high definition transfer. Gone's climax (unsurprisingly) takes place at night, and the filmmakers aren't afraid to go dark. To the disc's credit, black levels are amazingly deep, and detail remains strong even in shadows. In the daytime scenes, detail is equally strong, and colors are well-saturated. No serious compression artefacts show up to mar this excellent transfer. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio isn't quite as impressive, but it gets the job done. Dialogue comes out clean and clear from the center channel, and is well-balanced with the film's score. However, it take feel a little lifeless at times. Atmospheric sounds come out in the surrounds during more tense moments, but this is a pretty front-heavy mix.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Gone is relentlessly, almost painfully generic. From the setup of the disappeared woman to the random jump scares in the film, everything about the film seems borrowed from other films. I wasn't lying when I said the movie made Jill's paranoia feel natural, but natural isn't always better. More stylized films like The Lady Vanishes or The Vanishing, while not as realistic, work much more effectively as thrillers.
Gone isn't aided by its casting, either. Seyfried is fine as Jill, able to believably lie and freak out, but she doesn't bring anything special to the role. All of the cops are even more one-note. Daniel Sunjata takes all his most jerk moments from Rescue Me and combines them for his performance here, and the other male characters were cast from a "creepy guy" cattle call. Joel David Moore and Wes Bentley both appear as suspects, and when Bentley's new-guy character disappears two thirds of the way into the film to "deliver soup" to his mom, I was ready to throw this disc in the garbage if he turned out to be the killer. Luckily, the film isn't that brainless, but it does try too hard to point the finger everywhere.
Though the film tries to point the finger everywhere, in the end the killer is almost an afterthought, and he's dealt with almost too easily. There's no real explanation of who or what he is and why he might be targeting Jill and Molly. Though I totally understand that this is supposed to be Jill's story, crafting a more compelling killer would have helped the film tremendously.
Finally—no extras? I understand that Gone underperformed at the box office and all that, but no featurettes? No commentary? No trailer? That seems a little absurd for a film of such recent vintage.
Against my better judgment, I enjoyed Gone. Seyfried is compelling enough, and the plot okay enough that I was willing to forgive the film its shortcomings. However, I went in with very low expectations. Those looking for top-notch thrills and chills should look elsewhere. Fans of Seyfried will want to give this flick a rental, since it's unlikely to have much replay value and there are no extras to tempt a purchase. Thriller fans might find something here as well, but expectations must be kept in check.
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