Two years after Greg McClean’s depressing and bloody feature-length debut Wolf Creek (2005 / trailer), a film of innocents vs. psycho in the Australian outback, Ringan Ledwidge brought out his own feature-length debut film of innocents vs. psycho in the Australian outback, Gone. But unlike Wolf Creek, which garnered both good and bad press—Roger Elbert famously gave it zero stars for being a film made only "to establish the commercial credentials of its director by showing his skill at depicting the brutal tracking, torture and mutilation of screaming young women"—and a lot of attention, Gone sank into instant obscurity. Well, that’s what happens when you do away with the brutal tracking, torture and mutilation of screaming young women (but for a few, final minutes) and instead concentrate on building dread, psychological terror and the feeling of unavoidable doom.
The tale told in Ringan Ledwidge's Gone, written by Andrew Upton (otherwise known as Mr. Cate Blanchett) and James Watkins (who upped the brutality ante in both his screenplay for the unnecessary The Descent: Part 2 [2009 / trailer] and his own self-written directorial debut Eden Lake [2008 / trailer]), is yet another film ala Hostel (2005 / trailer) or Turistas (2006 / trailer) that warns the young adults of today against traveling to far places—only this time it isn’t the locals that are the threat, but rather a fellow traveler.
Alex (Shaun Evans of Dread [2009 / trailer]) has flown to Sidney from Liverpool to join his gal Sophie (Colin Farrell's delicious ex-wife Amelia Warner, of Quills [2000 / trailer], Nine Lives [2002 / trailer] and The Echo [2008 / trailer]) in Byron Bay for a cross-country, backpacking-by-bus trip. Delayed in Sydney, he hooks up with the friendly US American Taylor (Scott Mechlowicz of Mean Creek [2004 / trailer]) and, after a night of drunken carousing, awakens in a sleeping bag with a strange gal just as Taylor snaps a Polaroid of them “as a souvenir”. Taylor offers to drive Alex to Byron Bay, and before Alex knows what’s happening he and Sophie are driving through the outback with Taylor as a traveling trio. Three’s company quickly changes into three’s a crowd as the increasingly odd Taylor begins to turn the psychological screws so as to break up the couple and get into Sophie’s shorts...
Gone is anything but a mindless bloodfest and concentrates instead on the increasing dread instigated by the growing feeling of unavoidable disaster arising from both the film’s languid photography of the landscape and its overt symbolism of isolation and death. Many of the apparent plot holes of the narrative are resolved by the deleted scenes, most of which shouldn’t have been cut as they make certain sequences of events far more understandable. (The doctor that was said to have been called at one point but that never shows up and is never referred to again remains an obvious flaw expedient to the plot development—as is Alex’s willingness to open doors.) An interesting play of viewer’s sympathies is caused by Alex’s increasing assholism as his paranoia rises, causing him to be less likable for the audience even as the likable-looking Taylor’s psychopathic nature becomes more apparent. An incriminating Polaroid aside, the inability that Alex and Sophie have in communicating is also slightly less than believable; for a couple, they are oddly incapable of talking to each other. Sophie reveals herself to be more than fodder in the long run, but some of her actions reveal a certain level of brainlessness; likewise, she is truly incapable of simple mathematics when it comes to her total obliviousness of Taylor’s machinations.
But for all the flaws the narrative might have, the film is highly effective in building tension and establishing a sense of unavoidable tragedy—and an ending that, for a change, is truly consequent to the events preceding it. Gone is a flawed but effective film, and if it’s initial wallop is less than that of the numerous kinetically violent and blood-drenched “travel = death films”, Gone at least lingers longer in one’s mind.