I haven't seen a really powerful film in a little while. Maybe it's because of covid-19 or maybe it's because I'm looking in the wrong places. This film got me. It was moving. Or rather, the opposite, because while it was playing, I couldn't move. I was transfixed by the screen.
Lost Girls is based on the true story surrounding Shannan Gilbert's disappearance. In particular it follows Mari Gilbert (Amy Ryan) and her determination to find her daughter. When Shannan goes missing, Mari implores the police to do their jobs and search for her. However, they are slow to begin this process, and at times negligent or half-hearted in their investigation of the case. Mari on the other hand, is tenacious and refuses to give up, even when the odds are stacked against her, or the situation she finds herself in is nothing short of dangerous.
I will admit, that I am easily emotionally affected by films. Sometimes a film has such a strong emotional impact, that I don't have to watch it again for years. I think Lost Girls will be one of those films for me. In my opinion, the way in which Liz Garbus directed this film, is unforgettable. Garbus creates such a strong sense of mood, that it's hard to look away. Looking over my notes, I'm not actually sure what to write about, because fifty per cent of them are just emotionally charged words that I felt whilst watching. Eerie. Dread. Haunting. Tense. Lonely. Dark...to name a few. Then there's the note where I wrote "one year later - vomit". I genuinely wanted to vomit when those words came up on the screen. It's not just the story that makes a viewer feel this way. Garbus uses a powerful soundtrack, dark colours, and an ominous setting. In fact, she filmed very close to where many of the women's bodies were actually found and has described the area as, "a desolate dumping ground, and there is a sadness to it". Garbus definitely recreates this feeling on the screen and the mood is consistent throughout the film. Not only that, but it's tense. It's listed as a thriller and it certainly feels like one.
Though Garbus' talents are clear, her film is made ever more moving through the strong performances of her largely female cast. Amy Ryan in particular delivers a very compelling performance. It's hard not to empathise with Mari when watching Ryan work and additionally, Ryan is paramount in communicating the film's central themes and the messages that it strives to deliver.
I really appreciated this film's ability to alter perspectives. It repeatedly displays news footage where Shannan and the other women are referred to as prostitutes or sex workers. More than once, Mari points out that the victims shouldn't be referred to in this way. They are sisters, daughters and mothers. They are more than just sex workers. At one point, when referring to the police and their efforts to find the girls and their murderer, she even says, "They don't care. They blame them". These arguments make viewers reflect on the way that humans can devalue the deaths of people in lower socio-economic areas or in professions that are sometimes considered morally taboo. Lost Girls successfully communicates that all lives should be weighted equally. Whether a person is a lawyer or a sex worker, they deserve the same rights, the same respect and the same police work as everyone else. It's heartbreaking to watch the police fail to ask for evidence, or lose evidence, or brush Mari aside because of her daughter's medical and employment history. It's frustrating to watch Mari find most of the information herself and put herself in danger to further an investigation that she shouldn't be responsible for.
This film also makes some really important comments on the bystander effect. While Shannan is trying to escape her attacker, it's clear that she does receive some help from people on the street, but no one is really successful in aiding her. Furthermore, Mari receives a bunch of inside information from a "good samaritan" named Joe Scalise, but this help didn't give me any relief. In fact, it horrified me. It's great that Scalise passes on his suspicions to Mari, but how many girls died before he told someone what he knew? I'm not attacking the real Joe Scalise. I've obviously never met the guy, and have no idea if his portrayal in Lost Girls is accurate. However, I think his character in the film represents a huge societal problem, one that may never be fixed.
My one qualm with this film, is that I don't think the time is always clear. Perhaps this was a purposeful choice? I'm not sure. There was a point at which I thought months had passed, but then I think it had only been a week? The dialogue is the clearest indicator of how much time has passed (apart from the one title towards the end that says, "one year later"). Perhaps more frequent titles at various points would have elevated the stakes even more and orientated viewers? Or perhaps it would have been tacky? I'm not sure; I'm not a filmmaker. I will say that I'm glad the script isn't littered with exposition alluding to time increments.
This is one that I'd certainly recommend. At the end, I was left with a general feeling that life is cruel and unfair. So many questions went unanswered. Ultimately, I was incredibly frustrated. Then I reflected, and realised that these unanswered questions would be infinitely more frustrating and hurtful and confusing and alarming and a million other words-ing for the actual victims' families. Obviously, I could never imagine what it would actually be like to have a family member go missing, but I think it's fair to say that Garbus successfully makes audiences feel an iota of an iota of what it would feel like, and that's pretty damn powerful.