Far more unsettlingly savage than many horror thrillers, Chris Sivertson’s “The Lost” is a potently pulpy and purposefully lurid drama that probably will prove too brutal (and brutalizing) for both mainstream auds and arthouse habitues. Even so, small-budget indie is undeniably fascinating and deadly serious from start to finish, with nary a trace of the wink-wink irony common to tongue-in-cheek crime stories by Tarantino wannabes. Much like the Jack Ketchum novel on which it’s based, pic could attract a fervent cult, on homevid if not in theatrical runs.
Aptly disorienting prologue establishes small-town pretty boy Ray Pye (fearlessly played by Marc Senter) as a charismatic sociopath with a whim of iron and a taste for blood. While hanging out with girlfriend Jen (Shay Astar) and best buddy Tim (Alex Frost) at a local campground, he impulsively fatally shoots two young women who appear, in his eyes, to be lesbians. With minimal exertion of will, Ray forces his easily intimidated companions to help him cover up the thrill-killings.
Four years later, Ray deals drugs, maintains multiple relationships with pliable teenage girls, and hits on all the female employees at the motel owned by his clueless mom. (A nicely nasty touch: He wears crushed beer cans in his shoes to make himself look taller.)
A relentless police detective (Michael Bowen) and his retired partner (Ed Lauter) still consider Ray the No. 1 suspect in the unsolved murders, but Ray is too crafty to incriminate himself — until he falls for Katherine (Robin Sydney), a well-bred beauty who wants to take a walk on the wild side.
Sivertson methodically ratchets ups the suspense — and yet, at the same time, introduces a trace of romantic tragedy — as “The Lost” focuses on the ineffably perverse relationship between Ray and Katherine. The normally cocksure Ray is taken aback by her frankly carnal come-on, and eventually trusts her enough to share his darkest secrets.
Katherine, haunted by her own closeted skeletons, is intrigued — and, maybe, turned on — by Ray’s confession. But when she ultimately decides to end their affair, the break-up triggers an even more horrific outburst of bloody mayhem.
The final scenes of “The Lost” mercilessly test aud stamina, maintaining a sense of mounting dread while detailing a murder spree by the increasingly unhinged Ray. Overall impact is all the more powerful because some victims are the types of characters who normally survive in this sort of melodrama.
In a blunt-force, resolutely non-jokey fashion, Sivertson appears intent on putting some of the sting back into on-screen death. Trouble is, the very effectiveness of the pic’s devastating finale may drive some ticket buyers out of theaters, and make vid viewers hit fast-forward buttons.
(Ironically, however, pic may run the risk of an NC-17 rating more because of some totally uninhibited, sexually charged scenes.)
As Ray, a textbook example of unfettered Id, Senter remains genuinely terrifying long after his performance spins dizzyingly over the top. More importantly, he manages to convey something like charm, and even a touch of vulnerability, in the quiet moments that serve as counterpoint for his rants.
Standout supporting players include Sydney, Lauter and Megan Henning (as a plucky young woman who works undercover at the hotel owned by Ray’s mom). Lenser Zoran Popovic makes imaginative use of desaturated color and variegated film stocks to intensify key scenes.