By Ryan Lattanzio | TOH! May 20, 2014 at 2:58PM
"What the hell did I just see?" seems to be the general reaction critics are having to Ryan Gosling's directorial debut "Lost River."
Originally titled "How to Catch a Monster" and slated for an eventual release by Warner Bros., this creepy Un Certain Regard entry met both jeers and applause on the Croisette this afternoon. Partially set in an underwater city, it stars Matt Smith, Christina Hendricks, Saoirse Ronan, Eva Mendes and Ben Mendelsohn as denizens of ruination -- images of time-ravaged Detroit permeate this "film maudit crapocalypse" in which Ryan Gosling firmly sheds his sweet side.
Even before reviews hit, the film ignited a firestorm on Twitter. Anne Thompson liked it, tweeting "Impressive impressionistic well-wrought debut for #RyanGosling," likening the film's hellish, dreamlike qualities to the work of David Lynch -- a director from whom so many contemporary filmmakers crib with abandon.
In his C- review, Indiewire's Eric Kohn says the film is a messy melange of cinematic influences:
With the eerie, dreamlike noir of David Lynch, poetic visuals of lower class decay a la Harmony Korine's "Gummo," and the cartoonish violence found in Nicolas Winding Refn's "Drive," Ryan Gosling's flashy directorial debut "Lost River" is certainly an accomplished collage of familiar ingredients. That's both to the credit of the movie's stylish production values — it looks and sounds great — and the reason why it never really works. Rather than making his own movie, Gosling has composed a messy love letter to countless others.
Drew McWeeny of Hitfix singles out the performances, and visuals, in this "otherworldly vision of Hell":
"Lost River" is frequently an arresting visual experience, and I would expect nothing less from cinematographer Benoit Debie. This is the guy who shot "Spring Breakers" and "Enter The Void," after all. He is a beast of a photographer, and he has enabled Gosling to wrestle this dreamy otherworldly vision of Hell up onto the screen in a way that is undeniably gorgeous and ugly all at once. Likewise, the performances are all dedicated and seem to be part of this same vision that Gosling has. Eva Mendes shows up as a sort of ringleader at a Grand Guignol nightclub where beautiful women are "murdered" onstage each night... Christina Hendricks does a nice job of etching that tightrope walk between wanting to save her home for her children and trying to keep at least a fingerhold on her own morality.
The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw gives the film quite the drubbing in his review:
It is colossally indulgent, shapeless, often fantastically and unthinkingly offensive and at all times insufferably conceited. Yet it is frustrating precisely because it sometimes isn't so bad. There is something in there somewhere - striking images and moments, and the crazy energy of a folie de grandeur.
The Playlist takes issue with Gosling's shameless cribbing:
In general, Gosling as director wears his influences on his sleeve. Much of the photography, some of the imagery, and all of the violence is borrowed from his work with Nicolas Winding Refn, there are some surreal, unexplained horror touches that feel like Dario Argento, and the post-Katrina vibe, fable-ish magic realism and use of seemingly non-professional actors in supporting roles makes it feel a little like "Beasts Of The Southern Wild," just with a bunch of white people. It's an unruly mash-up of things that Gosling digs, without much original thought to it.