There’s always a very certain moment when you realize you’re watching a bad film. The magic of that moment comes from the small inkling of hope you have that the bad film you’re watching will turn out to be one of those gloriously bad films that’s highly entertaining, if light on good filmmaking. Thankfully, many films fit that bill. Unfortunately, Gone is not one of them, vacillating between hilarious ineptitude and mind-numbing stupidity.
The plot centers on Amanda Seyfried’s character Jill, who has apparently crash-landed on a planet similar in appearance to Earth. Despite being populated with humanoids, none of the aliens on Earth 2 behave in any way resembling an actual human being. Jill is a young woman trying to cope with a traumatic past. She claims to have been abducted by a mysterious man and kept in a deep pit in the forest littered with human remains. She was able to escape and tell the police her story, but they found no traces of the pit nor of any foul play in her apartment and thus concluded that she was batshit crazy and had her committed to a mental institution.
Jill has been living with her sister Molly and trying to readjust to the world, but everything is turned upside when Molly goes missing one night. Convinced that her sister was abducted by the same man, Jill goes to the police, only to be mocked and told there’s nothing wrong. Flummoxed, Jill takes matters into her own hands, embarking on a Scooby Doo-like chase for the man she knows kidnapped her sister.
I think my favorite part about Earth 2 is how generous everyone is with their motor vehicles. Jill’s first lead comes from a neighbor who saw a van parked outside her house. She tracks the van to a locksmith business and, after breaking into a van and waving a gun in Joel David Moore’s face, she is told that a guy came in around 2:30AM who “needed to move some tools.” So of course, Joel David Moore let him borrow one of their vans. I mean, the guy paid him a few hundred dollars and promised to bring it back and leave the key on the back tire. Obviously, the locksmith place must double as a van rental, and all you need to take one is a Coke and a smile…and a few hundred bucks. Earth 2 is similar to the 1950s, where trusting strangers to bring back expensive things like your company van might not seem so completely idiotic.
It’s bad enough that this is a major plot point in the film just one time. Luckily, this happens two more times. Jill tracks the guy to the hotel he was staying at and gets some info from the janitor. Needing a new car after having to abandon her own, she convinces the janitor to let her borrow his for a wad of fives and tems and the promise that she’ll bring it back the next morning. I’m sorry, what? WHO DOES THAT?! These are the same type of people who help Nigerian princes buy oceanfront property in Utah. And once more, just to really drive home the point that we are in fact on an alien planet where no one values their automobiles, Jill finds herself needing yet another vehicle, so she goes to ostensibly her only “friend” in the world, a co-worker, who of course lets Jill borrow her car despite knowing that she’s probably cuckoo pants. I’m fairly certain that cars are the prizes in giant cereal boxes on Earth 2.
Perhaps the best part of Amanda Seyfried playing detective is that she turns out to be the Sherlock Holmes of finding her sister. She never once chases a bad lead and everyone she talks to has the most information possible, leading her directly to the next person she needs to talk to. She finds a receipt for a hardware store at the locksmith and Joel David Moore says the man who borrowed the van gave the name Digger. HA, GET IT? ’Cause he digs holes in the forest into which he throws girls? Digger. HAHAHA AWESOME. At the hardware store, the friendly owner, who informs her that they don’t have security cameras because “this isn’t Home Depot,” is able to give her a basic description of the man, as well as what kind of car he drove and even where he lives. I’m honestly surprised at this point that she didn’t get a social security number as well. Chasing that bread crumb down to the rundown hotel where he’d been staying, she asks a random guy skateboarding out front for help and of course discovers her suspect’s real name and room number. At this point, Jill collecting blood type, fingerprints, and a full-on urine sample would have been just as believable.
Here’s a random assortment of things that actually happen during the film, just to give you an idea of the ridiculous nature of the script. At one point, Daniel Sunjata’s character refers to young girls as “split tail” and informs Wes Bentley that if he wants to chase that particular item he should go be a fireman, bro. During Jill’s search for the culprit, a guy uses the term “rapey eyes.” There are several points where Jill finds a roll of duct tape and holds it up so the camera can linger on it ominously, and we, the audience who haven’t demanded our money back yet, can all marvel at how she must be on the right track. Because, you see, the abductor tied her up with duct tape and even put a piece over her mouth. And only he would have duct tape. It’s certainly not a common product that everyone in the world has in their home. No, Gone espouses that, at least on Earth 2, possession of duct tape is clear evidence of criminal activity. Obviously. While on the phone with the man she believes may be the abductor, he actually says the words “there’s no service out here,” inducing groans while doing away with the cell phone issue. Problem is, he’s supposed to be “out here” at the moment he says that line…you know…on the phone. SO THERE MUST BE SOME SERVICE OUT THERE!
As if all this weren’t enough by itself, the entire “third act” centers on the idea that Jill is going to drive out to the forest to meet this guy. Alone. Without telling anyone where she’s going. This is like Horror Movie 101, where you don’t go down the basement steps alone at night. A fourth grader could have told her that was a bad idea. And yet, off she goes, perfectly happy to follow directions, from a probable killer, like “go to the abandoned ranger station” and “take the road until it ends and then get out of your car.” Apparently the survival instinct doesn’t exist on Earth 2. There’s even a moment where Molly’s boyfriend calls and Jill tells him she’s going to meet the guy. She could have easily said something Scooby-esque like “hey, if I’m not back in two hours, send a Scooby snack after me.” But in all honesty even a simple “hey, here’s the route he’s having me take through the forest, maybe let the coroner know so they can go ahead and start driving this way to pick up my bloody corpse” would have raised the intelligence level by half a percent. But no, Jill’s content to drive out to BFE to meet a likely killer with no plan or back-up of any kind.
Yet, the essential problem with a film like Gone is simply that even I didn’t realize just how much of its inanity would be presented through dialogue alone. I only wish that I had brought pen and paper to scribble furiously so that I could communicate to you in exact quotes the preposterous nature of everyone’s reactions. Sunjata in particular says things that no police officer would ever say. The script doesn’t even have the decency to paint Wes Bentley as an obvious red herring. No police officer looks as creepy as Wes Bentley. In fact, there are no real misdirects at all, which is what lets the air out of the fun balloon. As hilarious as some of the lines and Jill’s reactions to things are, and truly, there are many laughs to be had here, the straightforward nature of the conclusion is the cinematic equivalent of a pair of Dockers, bland and a little uptight. If this movie had thrown in two or three red herrings and a couple of twists on top of twists, it could have been a gloriously, uproariously funny bad movie. As is, however, Gone is just an occasionally amusing mess of lazy writing, bad dialogue, and alien behavior.
The Upside: It’s shot decently and will certainly make for a great RiffTrax/drinking game at some point in the future.
The Downside: Everything, plot, dialogue, performances, internal logic of any kind.
On the Side: Screenwriter Allison Burnett, who also penned this year’s Underworld: Awakening (a surprisingly entertaining film) is a man.