In the lax kidnapping thriller Gone, Amanda Seyfried has to spend a lot of time angrily threatening people, locking horns with the police, and engaging in car chases. Believe it or not, the delicate-featured, whisper-thin actress manages to (mostly) pull it off, but the abysmal movie around her lets her down. Seyfried plays Jill, a young woman who was abducted by a serial killer two years ago but managed to escape her captor’s woodland lair and is now terrified that he’s going to come back for her. When her sister Molly (Emily Wickersham) suddenly goes missing, Jill realizes the time may have come.
But there’s a catch. The cops don’t seem too concerned at first. In fact, they seem willfully unresponsive. The reason for that becomes clear once we learn that Jill’s previous ordeal was never verified; no evidence was found to support her claims of being abducted and nearly murdered. So, for all intents and purposes, the cops think she’s loony tunes. That means Jill is the only person who realizes the gravity of the situation (not even Molly’s boyfriend seems to care much). Thus, her increasingly desperate actions as she searches for her sister and, of course, the man who almost killed her two years ago. But we too might have our own doubts about Jill. She seems constantly on edge, and she’s a bit too good at making stuff up: She’s got a new story for every situation, and we begin to wonder if maybe she is delusional after all.
That’s where Gone goes off the rails. The story, with its uncertainty over whether anything we’re seeing is true, hovers on the edge of fantasy, and the
film prompts (perhaps unintentionally) a cavalcade of questions on our end: Is Jill telling the truth? Could she herself be the kidnapper? Does Molly even exist? Who are these cops and why are they so bad at their job — do they exist? Even Jill’s breathless pursuit of her kidnapper feels a little off, consisting mostly of painfully obvious clues: a van the kidnapper borrowed from a plumbing company, a receipt left behind from a hardware store (for lots of duct tape and rope), as well as some boasting he did about his car and where he was staying. Either this guy’s the sloppiest serial killer ever, or he wants Jill to find him. The answer to that becomes obvious in the final act, but it’s always tough to spend most of a movie wondering whether the characters are morons and/or lunatics; even if it eventually turns out they’re not, the sheer suspicion is enough to poison the experience.
None of this would be a huge problem if the film were willing to play with all this uncertainty. But director Heitor Dhalia doesn’t seem to have figured out what kind of movie this needs to be. Instead, he tosses in a bunch of useless red herrings, shooting most of the men Jill encounters in ominous low-angle shots, as if to rouse our suspicions, only to not do anything further with them. (Wes Bentley shows up as a somewhat creepy cop, but then vanishes purportedly because — and I am not making this up — his mother is sick and he needs to take her soup.) Faced with such anonymous hackwork, one wonders where a stronger directorial style and a willingness to engage with some of the story’s almost fairy-tale-like elements might have taken us. As it stands, we get an absurdist thriller that, played mostly straight, comes off as ludicrous and lame.