Amanda Seyfried is one of those frustrating actresses whose talent is undeniable, albeit stymied by her insistent casting in rote fare unbecoming of her abilities, which for the last 2 years alone has included 'Dear John', 'Letters to Juliet' (nice try though), 'Red Riding Hood', 'In Time', and now, in what is arguably her worst, 'Gone'. There's some definite potential here, as the film deals with the fallout of a young woman, Jill Conway (Seyfried), returning to society following her apparent rescue from the clutches of a serial killer, whose grim lair in the woods is home to countless human remains. Of course, when Jill's recovering alcoholic sister, Molly (Emily Wickersham), goes missing, she thinks the killer has returned to finish what he started, while the incredulous authorities are skeptical, given Jill's previous incarceration in a psychiatric facility after her parents' untimely death. Unfortunately, while the fractured nature of a damaged mind has been compellingly brought to the screen many times recently, that is not the sort of film screenwriter Allison Burnett (the scribe behind the irascible and infuriating tech-thriller Untraceable) and Hollywood newcomer director Heitor Dhalia are interested in making. Scripting from the outset is scant and idiotic; Molly tells Jill that she needs to find a man to make her feel better, completely undermining the very concept of fixing her state of mind. Indeed, these filmmakers are intent on rendering a thoroughly generic, piecemeal, and therefore hugely unsatisfying thriller, in which nobody will believe Jill, except of course for the one oddly suave cop who seems just a little bit too calm and collected (played by the ever-creepy Wes Bentley); at this point, it all seems woefully predictable. The one thing the film actually gets right is how it portrays the cynicism of the police, who arrive at logical - if unsavoury - explanations to dismiss Jill's mounting paranoia. Amanda Seyfried fans will probably still find themselves somewhat at home here; she is fine as usual, but it is another project which complete wastes her talents. All she gets to do is follow the breadcrumbs, talking to the local weirdos to try and track this nutter - and his apparent victims - down. The contrivances pile up and it becomes increasingly obvious what direction the film is going to take, though it still takes the time to layer on a few more head-smackingly idiotic conceits anyway; the DIY store in which the killer visited conveniently doesn't have a surveillance camera. The clerk who met the killer then seems to have remembered a ludicrous amount of detailed information from the guy, which most sane - or insane - people would assume was made up anyway, because why would a killer ever share random stuff with someone who could rat them out so easily? Though Seyfried chews threw the horrendous dialogue with the necessary sass, it's hilariously unconvincing that she can flee from the police so easily, at one moment offering two teens Justin Bieber tickets in order to blend in with them. It's woefully goofy. Suspense sequences meanwhile don't work because nothing makes us care about what is going on; Jill is annoyingly obnoxious, and her confused mental state becomes hilarious once she starts accosting genuinely decent people without justification. Only at the film's stifled climax - where Jill is isolated from humanity as she trawls through a dark wood - do things get even remotely tense. Still, the big reveal is an amusing work of misdirection; the blindingly obvious answer is a red herring not so much devious as it is clumsy, resulting in a painfully generic rent-a-villain standoff. Expectations were sufficiently lowered from the start such that you come to expect the obvious, and it doesn't even bother with that; it is utterly unfussed. The cops - played by Daniel Sunjata, Katherine Moennig and Wes Bentley - are generic and poorly developed, with the talented Bentley seeming particularly wasted here. It is baffling that Seyfried continues to pick roles which do not challenge or develop her as an actress; those earlier roles indicated plenty of promise, which seems to be draining away with each murky vehicle she insists on seating herself in. Another squandering of Amanda Seyfried's talent, this low-mileage thriller won't be remembered for long. Gone is released in UK cinemas on Friday.
Frequently sleep-deprived film addict and video game obsessive who spends more time than is healthy in darkened London screening rooms. Follow his twitter on @ShaunMunroFilm or e-mail him at shaneo632 [at] gmail.com.