Friday, April 25, 2008

THE LOST (2005) d. Chris Sivertson

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

The “dangerous bad boy” has long been a staple of American cinema. Whether the frequency of his occurrence in films stems from the fact that most towns have at least one “bad boy” hanging out on a street corner, or that men wish they could emulate his captivating appeal, or that women still are drawn to his air of “mischief”, the “bad boy” is an enduring icon. Developing a film around the “bad boy” requires walking a very fine line. The “bad boy” character must be menacing but appealing in some fashion, so that the audience identifies with the character in some manner. Too much lethality and your character becomes an unlikable psychopath, but too much humanity and the character just isn’t bad enough and is unconvincing. In THE LOST, based on the novel by Jack Ketchum, the Ray Pye character, played by Marc Senter, is certainly very bad and crosses the line between intimidating and maniacal, but that isn’t what derails this film. Director, writer, producer Chris Sivertson tried to juggle too many characters and stories, and unfortunately when too many eggs are spinning through the air, one or more is going to drop.

THE LOST is the story of Ray Pye, a disturbed, violent, controlling, narcissistic and self-destructive youth, followed around by his worshipful toadies, girlfriend Jenny played by Shay Astar and Tim played by Alex Frost. Life in Ray’s small town would have been dull enough to drive anyone mad, but Ray’s insane behavior hastens his own decline, as one manipulative and meaningless act follows another. Before long, anyone crossing Ray’s path runs the risk of being dragged towards his dark vortex of misery, whether it is those who are drawn to his malevolent charisma or those who stumble blindly into his shadow.

The tragedy of THE LOST is that there were moments where this film had me in its grip and there were story and character elements that sparked my interest. The shocking opening and concluding sequences, mixed with a sprinkling of Ray’s efforts to use his repugnant allure on his female conquests, felt like an updating of the Frank Booth mythos. Just as I was transfixed by Frank’s unpredictable and fatalistic persona in BLUE VELVET, there were times when Ray and his entourage’s misadventures captured my attention. Unlike BLUE VELVET, which was so carefully crafted visually so as to feel truly timeless, this film had a plethora of jarringly anachronistic traits. Some of the older, 70s vintage cars, some of the songs like The Pied Piper, and Ray’s clothing and hair gave the film a retro feel. The clothing of girls like Katherine and Dee Dee, newer soundtrack songs, cordless phones and other modern fare cancelled the past generation aura that seemed to be where this film wanted to go. Struggling to establish a sense of time for the setting was just one of THE LOST’s many problems.

THE LOST is probably an enjoyable novel, and not having read it I am making an educated guess based on many past experiences, but that literary strength is probably why it is a weak film. Ray and his band’s story is terribly watered down by the fact that the screenplay pulls in a large number of major and minor characters’ competing stories and what emerges is an extremely fragmented and disjointed tale about an entire town struggling with dysfunction. When you have 400 pages in a book to explore the threads tying disparate peoples together, it is possible to do so. In a film, jumping from one character’s story to another, pulling in minor characters briefly to help drive interpersonal conflict and then spinning them off, not to be seen again, is jarring at best. It is likely that some of Chris Sivertson’s intention was to show the totally irrational behaviors of Ray and the senselessness of what he did to people in the town, but the plot is just too choppy to be completely enjoyable. Ray’s bouncing from one girl to another may have patterned the behavior of the person he was based on, but for much of the movie, the story just seemed to wander, then veer sharply in unclear directions only to heel over when the littlest wind took its sails on another tack.

Granted, one of the purposes of THE LOST was to show as Jack Ketchum says in his commentary, “those souls who didn’t go to war or go to college”, and as such, the idea would be to explore the flaws and frailties of those doomed to stay. In any story though, there have to be appealing characters, like spars we can hold onto, for whom we can cheer and for whom we feel empathy. There is no one like that in THE LOST. Beyond the fact that Ray is such a loathsome fiend and his cronies are sniveling cowards darkly enchanted by his reptilian charm, everyone else is damaged goods as well. Beautiful, perfidious and spoiled Katherine, played by Robin Sydney, is the perfect compliment to Ray, the Black Queen on Ray’s warped chessboard. Sally, played by Megan Henning, tries to be the coy and level-headed ingénue, but is playing just as dangerous a game in a parallel race to disaster. Screen veterans Ed Lauter and Michael Bowen play Ed Anderson and Detective Charlie Schilling, both of whom have cracks in their facades that reach to their very cores. On the surface, all of this sounds fascinating, and some of these characters would have made a great story on their own, but amassing this phalanx of wretchedness and charging it across the cinematic battlefield, the result leaves the viewer feeling bereft and despondent. I love a good depressing film or book, but the very best of both creative worlds takes you through the morass so that you come out the other side somehow better in the end. After the final, discordant, abrupt, screeching crash of an ending, there is no redemption for the characters or the viewers. Night is all.

The extras menu of THE LOST is small, somewhat interesting and a little out of the ordinary when compared to most contemporary releases. The audio commentary by Jack Ketchum and fellow writer and friend Monica O’Rourke is worthwhile. There is a 7 minute audition footage reel and a lengthier “outtakes” reel which is just as much a set of deleted scenes as it is outtakes. For anyone wanting to see more of the stunningly lovely Robin Sydney, these menu options are worth your time. The storyboard sequence for the introductory acts of THE LOST is also quite fascinating. Artists’ conceptions of what will eventually be shot are always compelling.

THE LOST is like so many other films out there today, it was a missed opportunity. Partly this could be the result of trying to adapt a novel to the Big Screen that really doesn’t fit. I have come to the conclusion that it is a rare novel that can be correctly rewritten into a screenplay and made to work as a feature film. This may have been the problem, because biting off more than you can chew is always a mistake no matter what the undertaking. Perhaps the idea was to modernize BLUE VELVET and that is why THE LOST didn’t measure up. As we have seen with so many of the remakes, treatments and retellings of the past six or seven years, it never pays to try your hand at rethinking an iconic or cult film. Maybe it was neither of these reasons and it was just difficulties with execution. Whatever the reason, THE LOST had a nice mix of screen veterans and newcomers who all worked hard to give compelling performances, some interesting exterior and interior sets, and an honest desire to tell a grisly tale. Somewhere along the line this film just didn’t get untracked and it didn’t rise to the level of its promise.

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