Lost River

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Lost River Movie Poster Image
Stylized drama about poverty has some disturbing violence.
  • R
  • 2015
  • 105 minutes

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Kids say

age 16+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Amid the violent content/dark themes and the commentary on poverty is the idea that it's important to take care of family and protect/help those you love.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Bones and Rat are good friends to each other and devoted to family members. Rat helps protect Bones, even though the selfless act comes at great personal cost. Bones' mom, Billy, does the best she can to keep the family house, and she also takes Rat with them when they have to look for another home.


The sadistic town villain tortures people, cuts off their lips, and kills a young woman's pet by cutting off its head. A man threatens a woman. A woman, fearing attack, sticks a knife in a man's ear. People die or are presumed dead. A character sets a house on fire; a woman refuses to leave a burning house and dies. Women scream and pretend to die and self-harm in a bloody, grotesque burlesque performances.


Women act in a burlesque show; no nudity, but (fake) blood. Women also stand in a sealed "shell" and let customers (men) do whatever they want to them.


Frequent strong language includes "f--k," "motherf--ker," "s--t," "a--hole," "bitch."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol (at a club).

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Lost River is actor Ryan Gosling's directorial debut; he also wrote the film but doesn't star in it. His popularity might draw younger viewers to the film, but it's too dark and violent to be appropriate for anyone but the oldest and most mature teens. There are some startlingly violent sequences -- such as a sadistic villain who tortures people, cuts off their lips, kills a character's pet, and sends a henchman to set a house (with people in it) on fire, or a woman who stabs a man in self defense. Plus, women perform in a bloody burlesque show that makes it seem like they're being killed and tortured (though it's all makeup and fake blood), and there's strong language is in nearly every scene (mostly "f--k," "motherf---er," and "s--t"), as well as some smoking and drinking.

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What's the story?

In the mythical, run-down city of LOST RIVER, most of the homes on single mother Billy's (Christina Hendricks) block have foreclosed, but she's desperate to keep her home for her two sons -- Bones (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Iain De Caestecker) and her young toddler. Determined to pay back her predatory loan, Billy takes a job as a performer at a gruesomely (albeit fake) bloody burlesque show. As she toils to make what she can, Bones annoys the town's sadistic thug, Bully (Matt Smith) -- who has a penchant for cutting off the lips of those who wrong him, even his "friends." The only bright spot in Bones' life is his blossoming relationship with Rat (Saoirse Ronan), a sweet neighbor who tells him that the urban wasteland they live in is doomed because it was flooded decades earlier so a dam could be built. According to Rat, the only way to save the cursed Lost River is to find the underwater remnants of the old town and bring a piece of it up to the surface.

Is it any good?

Unfortunately, Lost River is big on concept but short on story. There's no doubt that Gosling is an extraordinary actor, and it's unsurprising that such an acclaimed talent would join other actors turned directors (Ben Affleck, Angelina Jolie, James Franco, Kevin Costner, Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood, etc.) in an endeavor to take full control of a feature film. But perhaps Gosling would have been better off choosing an established script rather than trying his hand at both writing and directing (though he didn't star in the movie himself, something the majority of actors do to get their early directorial efforts funded).

On the plus side, Gosling shows promise as a student of lyrical directors like Terrence Malick, David Lynch, and former collaborators Derek Cianfrance and Nicolas Winding Refn. But every one of those directors has at one point relied too much on form over function, style over story -- and that's exactly what Gosling does in Lost River. The performers are all talented actors, but the story doesn't make a lot of sense; whatever Gosling is trying to say about poverty, hopelessness, and being stuck in a hometown that takes, takes, takes and offers you nothing in return is buried far below the surface. The film has plenty of interesting ideas, but the jumbled script -- no matter how well acted or interestingly shot -- is still too convoluted to be impressive.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Lost River's use of violence. How much is shown, and how does it serve the story? Some of it is stylized and some of it realistic -- what did you think of the way violence was used in the movie?

  • What's the movie's message about poverty? Why do Billy, Bones, and Rat stay in their messed-up town?

  • What do you think about the movie's ending? What do you imagine will happen to the characters?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas

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