Review: “Gone”

No doubt the advertisements for “Gone” will tout this British-made, Australian outback-set thriller as “The Hitcher” meets “Wolf Creek”. The truth is more mundane as it sadly lifts material not only from both of those movies, but other classics of the thriller genre like “Dead Calm” in an effort to sustain itself.

The resulting film is ultimately well produced, but otherwise pure direct-to-video pap. Solid direction and well shot visuals cannot overcome the inherent problems from the mixed performances, thin script, off-putting characterisations, and languished pacing.

“Gone” starts with Alex (Shaun Evans), a red-haired Scottish teen newly arrived in Sydney, Australia to meet up with an English girlfriend (Amelia Warner) who is travelling around the country. On his first night he meets Taylor (Scott Mechlowicz), a handsome and very charming American lad who offers to take him up the coast to meet her.

Upon catching up, the trio and another female tourist decide to go on a road trip up through the Australian Bush and Outback, despite Alex’s desire to be alone with his girl. Soon the tourist friend disappears with little notice, and the all too friendly Taylor starts playing mind games with an increasingly frustrated Alex.

You can guess where things go from there. There’s an obvious (and commendable) desire here to do a slow burn psychological thriller, the kind of genre that spawned the likes of “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle” or “Basic Instinct”. The trouble there is those films require characters we root for, complex mystery plots, or even simple shock moments.

“Gone” has none of that, opting instead to very slowly build up its suspense. Right from the start however it telegraphs its outcome, effectively disarming much of that suspense from the get go. Only unexposed teens won’t guess that Mechlowicz turns all Billy Zane in the film’s ridiculous final half-hour, and they won’t care as their attention spans are too short to appreciate this film’s relaxed pacing.

Even accommodating audiences won’t get over the pacing – there is literally 10-15 minutes of story here that’s dragged out by lots of cutaway landscape shots and often failed attempts to provoke atmosphere. There’s no real story beats either, which means it never really builds towards anything short of the inevitable showdown we’ve been waiting for since the beginning. It’s only in the film’s final twenty minutes that anything truly happens, and even then it’s a rather cheesy ending involving the film’s sole piece of visual effects which rob much of the reality of the piece the first two acts spent establishing.

If it were simply the pacing issues, this would just be written off as dull. What ultimately sabotages the film though is the characterisations. It’s hard not to root for the bad guy in this as quite simply he’s the only half-decent one of the bunch. Scott Mechlowicz, who’s proving to be one of the better young actors out there, comes out of this unscathed with a nice little turn as the villain of the piece.

The cocky arrogant charmer routine plays quite well, especially compared with Evans who struggles with one of the most annoying male lead characters in years. His Alex is quite believably a teenager – brimming with macho posturing, arrogance and immature irrational outbursts which only serve to make you want to leave him by the side of the road.

The girls of the film are ultimately useless, Warner simply playing the dumb bimbo routine. There’s a genuine emotional stability and warmth that the actress is able to embed into the character, but the script paints her as an almost innocent child who makes the blond bimbos in slasher movies look like MENSA material in comparison.

It’s a shame as one of the film’s true strengths is its attention to realism. Unlike even the still over-the-top (albeit far stronger) “Wolf Creek”, there is no real sense of over exaggerated Aussie culture here. The location shooting, equipment, and assorted bars, parties and hotels that make up the film’s setting are believable in terms of what travelling through outback Australia can be like (minus the creepy American villain).

Andrew Upton and James Watkins script, whilst messing up some of the fundamental basics mentioned above, is at least consistent , whilst Ringan Ledwidge’s direction also yields some beautiful shots of Aussie flora and fauna. Still when the setting and the sheer sex appeal of the leading villain are the only things one can really commend, you know there isn’t much here to bother with.