Review by Mark Schwab
April 30th, 2017
Sometimes I just think it's important to pick one genre and tell your story within it as best as possible. I like indie filmmakers who try and play with story convention and keep us on our toes and I genuinely appreciated how writer/director Steve Gibson tried to keep things fresh with THE LOST WITHIN but it just made a few too many missteps that I couldn't overlook.
David Gries stars as Jon, a sports journalist for a local newspaper in rural Pennsylvania who is barely doing his job. What Jon would much rather be doing is writing his book - a side project detailing the lives of shut-ins (people who never venture out of their homes and avoid human contact). There isn't much depth or reason given for why Jon is interested in this subject and when he does interview one shut-in at the beginning (he pays them some money to talk to him, promising to not use their name), it goes poorly.
Now, I've known professional journalists and Jon's actions when "interviewing" his shut-in's didn't really feel believable to me. He acts like someone who hasn't taken a journalism class. Still, I was intrigued by the set-up and it is quite a compliment to David Gries that I was becoming invested in his character. Gries (the strongest part of the movie) has a solid screen presence and he does a lot of hard work in creating Jon's personality despite being placed in contrived situations - I believed in him even if I didn't really believe him as a journalist.
It is when we go with him on his second shut-in interview that the plot starts to take shape. He gets a tip from a local motel manager that there is a creepy woman named Agatha (Jami Tennille) who has been living there. Agatha stays in her room all day and night, rarely talking to anyone except with angry criticism or curt dismissals. She does agree to be interviewed though and when Jon arrives, he finds himself becoming obsessed with her as well as her mysterious backstory of how she came to be in this current state.
Ok, I'm still with the movie here because this idea has potential for a good slow-burn thriller. Unfortunately, the first mistake hits at this point - I never got on board with Jon becoming obsessed with Agatha. Mainly because she's not a very interesting character - she's dowdy, sullen and monosyllabic. Agatha is more like a prop than a person here and the fine characterization by Gries just highlights that. In fact, too many of the supporting characters here struggle in their roles next to Gries.
The second mistake is when Jon starts to investigate, the movie's pace slows to a crawl and the genre gets muddled with a music score that undercuts the tension. It starts to play like a romantic drama in this middle section. Suspense should have been building and instead it was being diluted.
The third (and most critical) mistake for me was when Jon finally gets around to figuring out Agatha's real story, it is delivered with one character telling Jon everything in a monotone. This is similar to the old "talking killer" trope where the writer has the killer stand there and explain every inch of their plan for no reason except to give the hero time to escape. It's more effective when you can use visuals to guide the audience to conclusions instead of having a character blandly recite exposition.
Which is a shame since there is potential in this story when looked at in hindsight. David Gries in the lead role is perfectly cast (I'm sure we will see more of him in the future) and the film looks gorgeous with cinematographer Gus Soudah lensing things beautifully on wonderful locations. There is a good movie to be made here. Steve Gibson and Co. know how to technically put a indie film together for sure but their title - THE LOST WITHIN - is unfortunately an apt one.