Young British travellers should steer well clear of the Australian Outback. Having suffered at the hands of a deranged and sadistic bushman in Greg McLean's ferociously unpleasant Wolf Creek, the Brits Down Under are again put through the wringer in Gone.
Like Wolf Creek, it has overlaps with the real-life story of the British backpacker Peter Falconio who was murdered in 2001 while travelling round Australia with his girlfriend. However, this is a psychological thriller, not a foray into the further extremes of Grand Guignol.
Early on, debut feature director Ledwidge cranks up the tension effectively enough. The three central performances are fine and the film has a psychological depth that many recent low-budget horror movies have conspicuously lacked.
The problem is that the longer this road trip lasts, the more far-fetched the storytelling becomes. By the final reel, the attempts at subtlety and complexity have all but been abandoned and we're yet again confronted with a young British woman fleeing from a psychopath.
Gone is one of the first Australian ventures from Working Title's lower-budget arm WT2 It should find some favour with the backpacker generation in the UK, where it opens on March 9, but its reliance on coincidence and its deeply contrived ending will likely prevent it from having anything like the mainstream crossover potential of such earlier WT2 hits as Billy Elliot and Shaun Of The Dead.
Hardcore horror fans risk being disappointed that there isn't more shock and gore, while those in search of character-based drama may be discomfited by the late lurch into bloody melodrama. On the plus side, this is not narrowly parochial fare, enhancing its chances of travel; the handsomely shot Australian landscapes also give a sense of scale that belies the smallish budget.
As the film begins, personable young Brit Alex (Evans) has just arrived in Australia. He is due to travel cross country to meet his girlfriend Sophie (Warner). On his first night in the country, he meets charming American drifter Taylor (Scott Mechlowicz). They pick up two young women. Taylor who always has his camera at the ready, takes a compromising snap of Alex with one of the women: Alex thinks nothing of this and is happy when Taylor later proposes that he join Alex and Sophie on their trip. After all, he has a car.
Mechlowicz plays Taylor with purring, understated menace, as if the character is a Rough Guide version of the equally manipulative anti-hero found in Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley novels. Meanwhile, Evans and Warner are credible as the likable and ingenuous Brits.
As the trio set off together across the Outback (having mysteriously misplaced a young Scandinavian friend), the momentum builds neatly. The screenplay by James Watkins and Andrew Upton is intriguing and deliberately enigmatic. Neither the audience nor the two Brits know anything about Taylor beyond the fact that he is personable and charismatic but with a sinister edge.
There is also sexual tension in the air. When they are all sharing a tent together, Sophie and Alex make love, convinced that Taylor is asleep. They quickly realise that he is watching them: it appears that he is planning to prise Sophie away from Alex. That is certainly Alex's interpretation as he grows increasingly agitated and jealous.
Ledwidge enjoys tantalising his audience, dropping in more and more menacing hints about Taylor. In one especially effective scene, he is confronted outside a motel bar by a woman who hurls abuse at him. He pretends not to recognise her and then quickly concocts a story that she is neurotic and embittered. But we never discover just what he is supposed to have done to her.
The mystery surrounding Taylor gives Gone much of its atmosphere, but ultimately risks becoming the film's biggest problem: the audience is given no sense of who he is or what is motivating him.
Although the initial set-up is intriguing and deftly handled, the resolution is clumsy and unconvincing. The suspicion is that the film-makers simply didn't know how to end their movie and therefore took the easiest course. When one of the characters starts behaving with the same deranged malevolence as Max Cady at the end of Martin Scorsese's Cape Fear remake, all plausibility risks being lost.
Working Title Films
Middle of Nowhere Productions
WBP Backpacker Pty
Elizabeth Mary Moore