By Simon Abrams | The Playlist February 25, 2012 at 11:19AM
It’s weirdly fitting that "Gone" is just as tonally confused as its lead protagonist -- the creators of the new Amanda Seyfried vehicle have made a slasher film for the Lifetime movie set. Director Heitor Dhalia tellingly concludes the film’s opening scene, with Seyfried, playing a jittery young woman who’s convinced she was abducted, in a steamy shower sequence. There’s no nudity in this shower scene but if Dhalia did show Seyfried lathering up in the buff, it wouldn’t have significantly changed the already gratuitous nature of this introductory sequence of Seyfried quietly touching herself behind a thin shower curtain.
That relatively chaste but still innately sleazy moment reveals just how flimsy "Gone"’s sheen of respectability is (Dhalia and screenwriter Allison Burnett make a big of show of respecting the psychological fragility of Seyfried’s heroine). As a result, it is a disingenuous and largely inert thriller about a recognizably human victim that tries to get her life back. During Seyfried’s introductory shower scene and the film’s logic-defying conclusion, Dhalia and Burnett prove how eager they are to pander to their audience by encouraging them to mindlessly cheer on a PTSD-afflicted final girl that’s out for revenge.
For most of its 94-minute runtime, "Gone" walks and talks like a genre movie designed for easily excitable housewives. Seyfried plays Jill, a panicked but resourceful Portland-based waitress obsessed with catching the unidentified man she’s convinced abducted her. Jill is reminded that her assailant is still at large when her beloved sister Molly (Emily Wickersham) suddenly goes missing. Though Molly is a recovering alcoholic, Jill’s convinced that her sister’s been abducted and runs to the police with all the information she’s compiled on her own abduction. Jill insists that the man who kidnapped her is back and has now taken her sister.
The police predictably give Jill the brush-off, albeit for unusual reasons: they never originally discovered evidence that proved Jill was abducted in the first place. Furthermore, Jill was so adamant about her story that she was briefly institutionalized and, when the film's events take place, is still taking medication. So, in the face of such great adversity, Jill now decides to strike out alone in her search for Molly, answers and a sense of closure.
Realistically, that stupid dichotomy of Jill-vs.-the cops is where "Gone" starts down a reluctantly exploitative path. Dhalia and Burnett are not categorically wrong for encouraging viewers to cheer on a heroine that suffers from what is painstakingly depicted as a sympathetic form of trauma. In fact, Jill’s memories of being bound and thrown into a hole in the middle of a local Portland forest as well as a scene of her obediently taking medication should theoretically make her a rich, complex heroine.
But because the police are consistently represented as un-nuanced and totally incompetent throughout the film, Burnett gives viewers the chance to constantly use them as scapegoats and thereby ignore all of the more troubling things that Jill does in her search for Molly. For example, she lies to pretty much everyone she interrogates. To get information from potential witnesses, she constantly makes up stories, like the one about how her (still-living) mother died or about how her grandmother (never seen in the film) heard noises late during the night when Molly was kidnapped. Jill lies to pretty much everyone and even eventually stops taking her medication, which, again, should make her a complex character.
Meanwhile, the police are shown to be no better than Keystone cops, as in a scene where Jill, now a wanted woman (she was seen flashing a small, unlicensed revolver), drives right by two officers who are chit-chatting in a parked squad car. We identify with Jill because, according to the rules of a thriller/horror movie, we’re supposed to be just as certain as she is that Molly was taken. But we’re also expected to trust Jill because of the bull-headed fervor with which the police chase her when we know they should be following up on the details of her claim. Frantic though she may be, at least she is shown to be investigating. She’s doing something to get her sister back, which is meant to endear her to us. But the cops are not, which makes them generically bad guys.
That kind of zero sum sense of morality is why "Gone" is a cheap detective story and not a muddled but somewhat complex thriller. Though she’s depicted as being no more dangerous than Gene Wilder in "Silver Streak," Jill is in fact a hysterical wreck. If we’re meant to see her as a psychologically rich character, then somebody, like the police, her mother or co-workers, should stand their ground and try to stop her. But no, we cheer Jill on because that’s what we’ve been trained to expect an ass-kicking femme to do: get closure at all costs.
The problem is that closure in this case means revenge, and revenge is just a cheap way of giving the audience the callow thrill of seeing a butt-kicking, pseudo-empowered female victim instantly transformed into a badass-ette. Real closure is not that simple nor that satisfying, no matter how much the picture's creators force their lead character’s arc to conform to that kind of stupid ra-ra strain of revanchism. In this case, using real symptoms of victimization to spice up a boilerplate thriller "Gone" only adds insult to injury. [F]