Like The Girl Next Door, The Lost is another Jack Ketchum novel adapted for the silver screen by an independent filmmaker, and it's highly unlikely the book's most potent and controversial elements – nudity, ‘May and December sex', drug use, and brutal violence – wouldn't have been diluted or completely excised under studio control.
Girl took almost a decade to be made into a movie, and Ketchum agreed to sell the film rights only because he had faith in the filmmakers who insisted fidelity to book. The Lost took less time to blossom into a movie, but as he describes to fellow author Monica O'Rourke on the DVD commentary track, writer/director Chris Sivertson was equally committed to retaining as much dialogue, descriptions, and imagery from the book.
Sivertson's early drafts apparently ran the equivalent of a three hour movie, and while Ketchum chuckles at the thought, he was nevertheless impressed by the director's determination, and stuck with the decision to reset the story in a murkier present day for budgetary reasons. (Lost is originally set in 1969, and the title, according to Ketchum, refers to the kids who didn't go to Vietnam and were stuck at home, were very bored, got into trouble, and lacked any direction.)
As a two hour film, The Lost is an extremely well-paced crime drama and character study of a quirky, ridiculous young adult whose narcissism demands a constant coterie of beautiful young women and concubines. Early impressions of killer Ray Pye would probably cause one to brand the young adult as a quirky idiot, but as the film moves forward, one discovers he's also cunning, charismatic, ebullient, and clearly maintains an unwavering self-confidence through his control and manipulation of two longtime friends (Jennifer and Tim) who stick with Ray even when he murders two girls in a kind of campfire rabbit hunt.
That opening sequence establishes Ray's sociopathic nature and his young crew's culpability in keeping Ray's killings secret for a quartet of years; the inability of the local cops to nail Pye to the murders has also boosted the trio's confidence in living worry-free, but Tim and Jennifer's personal unhappiness comes from their codependent relationship with Ray who controls their social lives so completely.
Ray's strongest skill lies in his mimicry of human emotions to get what he wants – pretending to be super-cool and self-effacing so he can shag Katherine (Robin Sydney), or teasing long-suffering girlfriend Jennifer with a diamond ring as proof of his devotion - and he seems to get a rush only when it involves observing someone else's suffering, up front and personal, as in the campfire hunt: after killing the first girl (played by Erin Brown, from Lucky McKee's Master of Horror episode “Sick Girl”) he looks with keen interest at his second victim who stares at him with blank eyes after being shot in the head.
His fascination with pain and payback come to a head in the film's bloody finale, which is a bravura sequence because of the successful mix of revolting violence (delving into Manson terrain at one point), Sivertson's deft direction, the visual choreography from tight editing, and Marc Senter's quarter-comedic performance as Ray.
Senter apparently went Method with his acting, and his incarnation of Ray is wholly believable without twisting him into a cartoon character; he plays him just close enough to the edge, and adds subtle gestures that make him amusing whenever he's seconds away from another wave of explosive rage.
Throughout the film, Ray's bolts of anger are nicely enhanced by some clever aural, visual and editorial effects, and Sivertson plays with buzzing fly sounds, double-exposures, grain, film stock, and continuity lapses; they're sparingly applied, however, and Sivertson enhances Ketchum's characters through elegant compositions and specific colour schemes for the major characters.
Like Ketchum's Girl, Lost isn't really a horror film; it's a fusion of two murder cases the author developed into a crime novel with elements of black comedy trained not on the suffering characters, but on Ray's absurd persona, which render him into a likeable monster: his lack of any conscience is genuinely offensive, but he's laughable for drawing a voguish mole on his cheek, and wearing boots with crushed beer cans to boost his height and infer sexual prowess through a clumsy canted walk.
Ketchum, Sivertson, and Senter may have been evoking a self-styled Elvis persona, but Ray's pale makeup, black eyeliner, and slicked back hair also recall Willem Dafoe's neo-gothic Raven Shaddock, the lead villain in Walter Hill's comic book noir effort Streets of Fire (1984).
The success of Girl, the second Ketchum tale brought to the screen, seems to have rescued The Lost after it apparently fell into oblivion after doing the festival circuit between 2005-2006, and Anchor Bay's DVD release and theatrical reissue will probably salvage writer/director Sivertson's reputation from the trash heap after his disastrous first studio picture, I Know Who Killed Me, was pretty much (and deservedly) excoriated by critics as a major work of creative ineptitude.
Sivertson, a film school colleague of Lucky McKee, co-directed the horror spoof All Cheerleaders Die (2001) with the latter, and it was McKee who bought The Lost film rights for Sivertson after Mckee's breakthrough film May (2002) impressed Ketchum and convinced the author that his characters would be in good hands.
Ketchum's commentary track is more of interest to his fans simply because it doesn't really delve into the film's production as much as the author's own career, the book's true crime roots, and Ketchum's discussion of themes (guilt, human suffering) central to his work. It's actually very odd that Sivertson is absent from the DVD, but perhaps the director isn't one for self-publicity, and he prefers to let his work speak for itself.
Those curious about Sivertson's views of The Lost and audience reactions at festival screenings should read an interview with the writer/director in the March issue of Rue Morgue magazine (#76), and while the piece doesn't address what the hell happened on I Know, those familiar the sad saga of McKee's own studio debut – The Woods – will probably find a bit of cruel irony where the studio debuts (interestingly for Sony) by two colleagues & friends were complete duds. In Sivertson's case, he was trapped with a lead actress (Lindsay Lohan) in the midst of a slow, personal, and highly public meltdown, but the colour scheme tactics that worked so well in The Lost ended up clumsy in the inelegant I Know, shot in rudely lensed high-def video.
Fans of exploitation fodder won't be disappointed by the violence, full-frontal nudity and devious emotional cruelty in The Lost, but it's also film with depth that shows the peripheral consequences of one man's bad behaviour which renders him into a kind of sociopathic nuclear isotope, ready to explode under the right circumstances (which ends up being the final scene, littered with plenty of half-dead victims and exposed brain matter).
Other extras on this well-produced DVD are a lengthy suite of outtakes, which include Jack Ketchum's onset birthday, raw but slightly edited footage, deleted dialogue, and whole unused scenes, including Robin Sydney's bare-boobies-beer-theft); storyboard sequences; and extracts from audition tapes of the main actors who were clearly the best choices for Ketchum's characters.
Red (2008), Ketchum's revenge tale, has also been made into a film by co-directors Lucky McKee and Trygve Allister Diesen.
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan