Watch an exclusive trailer for Ryan Gosling's Lost River

Here are five reasons to get lost in the Goz's directorial debut – an arthouse odyssey with a set of quirky characters

Ryan Gosling's directorial debut Lost River is a gorgeous film, full of the sort of visual poetry that’d make Terrence Malick moist, with the kind of strange set pieces and weird characters that would get Terry Gilliam gasping. Following a financially-challenged family’s attempts to survive in a fantastical wasteland populated almost entirely by oddballs, it is – at its heart – a story about coping with the hand that you're dealt. In addition to an exclusive debut of the trailer, here are five reasons you should be excited about the movie.

BARBARA STEELE PLAYS AN AMAZING GRANDMA IN A VEIL

You can add Darren Aronofsky to the list of Gosling's influences, with iconic scream queen Barbara Steele’s character in particular looking like she’d be right at home in Requiem For A Dream. She’s the focus of a surprisingly moving mini-story that I won’t ruin here, but will probably burn your heart to ashes when you experience it for yourself. Steele enjoyed working with Gosling, comparing him to Fellini and the Dalai Lama – probably the first time anyone put those two in the same sentence.

SAOIRSE RONAN CARRIES AROUND A PET RAT

Pretty much every character has their own odd quirk in Lost River – Ronan’s obsession with her pet rat probably being the cutest. The moment when Matt Smith makes her get her rat out is one of the tensest edge-of-the-seat experiences I’ve had at a cinema in a while, and I’ve seen Whiplash.

THE FILM IS AN INTERESTING COMMENTARY ON DETROIT

Gosling was introduced to Detroit when filming Ides Of March, and the city stayed with him. As he puts it: “It was, at one time, a postcard for the American Dream but now, for the families in these neighbourhoods, the dream has become a nightmare. Having said that, there is still a lot of hope there. There is something very inspiring about the consciousness in Detroit. What it once was and will be again is still very much alive. I knew I had to make something there.”

Lost River pays tribute to Detroit in a number of fascinating ways, not least in a series of supporting characters that seem to be portrayed by local people – performances so naturalistic that we’re not sure if they’re aware a camera was being pointed at them. Look out for the lady who turns up during the garage sequence. I’d watch a whole film just focused on her. 

BEN MENDELSOHN AND MATT SMITH ARE CREEPY AS FUCK

Mehndelson and Smith play the villains of the piece. They portray very different types of menace – one thuggish, one insidious – but both are absolutely terrifying. Gosling’s said he was influenced by 80s fantasy family films when conceiving River, and Smith’s Bully is definitely a throwback to the kind of kid-torturing bastards that deserve to be chased down the street by a luckdragon for eternity. As for Mendelsohn, his performance as passive-aggressive slimeball Dave is a sleazy revelation, making you want to scrub your skin off after every single one of his scenes.

THE VISUALS ARE INSANE

Opening on a tracking shot of a young boy exploring 50s-style suburbs that could fit into Tree of Life with no obvious edits, Gosling’s film gets increasingly experimental as it goes along – incorporating stunning visual set pieces that linger long after the film’s finished. Any movie that can meld a naturalistic shooting style with the kind of images that would be cut from Beyond The Black Rainbow for being too weird definitely gets my vote.

Lost River is out in cinemas April