by Scott Mendelson
Gone is that strange sort of movie that actually grows in esteem when you look back on it and realize just how preposterous it really is. The plot technically involves Amanda Seyfried as Jill, a young woman looking for her missing sister. The twist being that she is absolutely sure that said sister (Emily Wickersham) has been abducted by the same serial murderer who kidnapped poor Jill and tossed her in a pit just over a year ago in a failed attempt to add her to his collection of corpses. That's all the plot you need, as what follows is a surprisingly relentless and fast-paced investigation thriller that barely stops to take its breath until late in the third act. While the events don't technically unfold in real time, there is such a propulsive forward momentum that the picture feels like a very low-budget, nothing-but-essentials variation on 24 meshed with Run Lola Run and an extended episode Busy Town Mysteries. I wouldn't go so far as to cal Gone 'good', but I admired its just-the-facts pacing and, in hindsight, its rather ludicrousness plotting.
My wife mentioned that she felt that the investigative techniques were something out of a Dan Brown novel, and she's got a point. The majority of the narrative follows Seyfried as she follows what amounts to a trail of breadcrumbs which may or may not lead to the fiend in kidnapped her sister and herself. She follows 'clue A' which leads straight to 'clue B' and so-forth with remarkable efficiency, often depending on blind luck that the latest witness or bystander remembered some tiny detail or a treasure-trove of valuable intel. There is just enough screen-time given to Jill's mental issues stemming from both her parents' untimely deaths and her prior abduction to actually leave the audience wondering right up till the end whether or not Jill is truly crazy in as 'shocking last-minute twist!' kind of way. I would never dream of revealing how the film ends, but I will say that Seyfried is surprisingly convincing at being painfully unconvincing during her various confrontations with disbelieving law enforcement officers, personified by Daniel Sunjata and Katherine Moennig. If I were in their shoes, I wouldn't believe her either.
One cop does inexplicably believe her, and he's played by Wes Bentley. Whether he is sympathetic because he's new to the department or because he notices that Seyfried is really quite pretty on this particular day is immaterial, but what is material is that he acts so absurdly creepy and looks so much like a pre-accident Joker that he's either the killer or the best red herring since Roger Rees showed up looking exactly like an aged Hugh Jackman in The Prestige. The film is full of would-be suspects, to the point where when one character describes a possible villain as having 'rapey eyes', we notice that pretty much every male character in the film has 'rapey eyes'.
It's tough to explain what's so amusing about the film without divulging major third-act details, but I will say that director Heitor Dhalia and writer Allison Burnett may be either borderline incompetent or devilishly playing with our expectations regarding these kinds of movies. Whether it's the apparently un-ironic use of the 'it's only a cat' startling device, the sheer number of potential serial murderers Seyfried meets on her journey, or the presentation of the least kinky serial killer in cinematic history (no gruesome sexual assault, no being forced to wear grandma's prom dress, no ritualistic games of Pictionary), Dhalia and Burnett are either too lazy to make a true exploitation picture or merely want to have fun with what we think these sorts of films should contain.
There is a genuinely compelling third act sequence, where Seyfried drives through the woods and engages in a lengthy dialogue with a possible Bananas Gorilla, and even that sequence is presented in such a way to possibly doubt its 100% authenticity. Even the final revelations subvert the cliches in a rather unexpected fashion, even if some audiences will be disappointed by what feels like a more plausible climax than you usually get in this genre. Like Chris Klein's performance in Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li, I'm not sure whether it is unintentionally terrible or a sly almost post-modern inversion of its genre. Either way, it has a true energy that is uncommon for low-budget thrillers, with a refreshing lack of distractions. Seyfried delivers the goods and elicits prurient interest while doing so, while a number of character actors have fun chewing through some pretty terrible dialogue.
It's a short 90-minute bit of cinematic goofiness. You won't cry, you probably won't gasp, but you will laugh. Whether or not you're laughing with-or-at Gone is a subject for debate.