Cinema has a long tradition of “Who’s the crazy person here?” films: The Lady Vanishes, Mirage, Bunny Lake Is Missing, and more recently, Flightplan and Unknown. In all these films, a frustrated protagonist carrying around a subjective truth tries to convince friends, family members, and dubious authorities of that truth, in spite of extensive contradictory witnesses and evidence. At times, all of those protagonists doubt their own sanity; in the best of these films, viewers are encouraged to follow suit, wondering if it’s all in the protagonists’ heads. The latest addition to the tradition, Gone, doesn’t go that far, and it’s never fully convincing in the way it lays out a bread-crumb trail for its suffering protagonist to follow to the truth. But it does find a little new life in a familiar formula.
Amanda Seyfried stars as a woman clearly struggling through a past trauma. She obsessively searches the forests around Portland, marking off sectors on a map; she acts out in a self-defense course, injuring her partner; she flinches at footsteps at night, crosses the street to avoid strangers, and dodges her studious sister (Emily Wickersham), who’s trying to set her up on a simple date. It takes the movie some time to unfold all the details of her history, but long before that, Wickersham isn’t in her bed one morning after Seyfried’s night shift as a waitress, so Seyfried goes straight to the police, insisting her sister has been kidnapped and has one day left to live. When the cops dismiss her as delusional and histrionic, Seyfried winds up playing a character somewhere between Veronica Mars and Buffy Summers at her angstiest, rushing around town brandishing a gun, panicking the cops, and looking for clues. Much of Gone’s procedural process relies on unlikely coincidence: Why does her suspect bother to provide a detailed description of his own car to a total stranger? Why does a locksmith rent his van to a total stranger for a small fee, with no paperwork? But much like Liam Neeson in Taken, on his own grim quest to find a missing girl, Seyfried plows forward with a grim determination and compelling focus, never acknowledging the material’s inherent Kiss The Girls trashiness. She’s convincing enough to keep Gone barreling forward.
Where Neeson’s weapons in Taken were largely murderous menace and grit, Seyfried has weepy eyes and a tremendous facility for lying. Director Heitor Dhalia (Adrift), meanwhile, has a couple of potent weapons in the Portland setting—all gangly, suspicious-looking characters and deep woods—and an understanding that stillness can be more chilling than over-the-top action. As the film builds toward a climax, Dhalia gets terrific mileage out of a claustrophobic sequence where Seyfried simply drives through the dark, talking on the phone to someone she thinks is the kidnapper. The film’s pieces don’t always fit together, but even in isolation, some of those pieces are well worth watching.
For thoughts on, and a place to discuss, plot details not talked about in this review, visit Gone's Spoiler Space.