Gone is a surprisingly engaging thriller, in large part because of its lead character, a young woman who finds herself in a situation which requires the use of her wits and keen powers of observation. Her name is Jill (Amanda Seyfried). A year ago, she narrowly escaped the clutches of a serial killer who kidnapped her, gagged and bound her with duct tape, and dragged her to a hole in a desolate area of a sprawling forest just outside Portland. Now her sister, a college student named Molly (Emily Wickersham), has gone missing. Jill is convinced that her kidnapper is responsible; he must have come back for her, but because she was working the night shift at a local diner, he took Molly instead. Jill must find him before he kills Molly and buries her at the bottom of that hole, right alongside several other missing girls.
The odds are not in Jill’s favor, which adds tremendous interest to the story. After she escaped, Jill came forward to the police with no physical evidence, no signs of bodily harm such as defensive wounds or sexual assault, and no description of her kidnapper. She claims she was abducted while she was still in bed, and yet there was no evidence of forced entry into her home. The experience, according to the police, was all in her head – a break with reality following a recent personal tragedy. As a result, she was involuntarily institutionalized for several months and forced to start a regiment of psychiatric medication. Adding insult to injury, it’s widely known that Molly is a recovering alcoholic. It’s not inconceivable that her disappearance is because of a sudden relapse.
Even after institutionalization and mandated therapy sessions, and despite Molly’s reputation, Jill is sticking to her story. She has been a thorn in the side of the local police, always coming at them with reports of other missing girls, which she has been keeping track of. Molly’s disappearance has made her an even bigger pain. The only cop who’s willing to consider the possibility that Jill is telling the truth is the new recruit, Peter Hood (Wes Bentley); he not only gives her his card, he also lets her program her number into his cell phone. But even then, Jill quickly realizes that only she can save her sister. And so, in defiance of the authorities, she arms herself and begins a one-woman city-wide investigation, one that will inevitably lead her back to the forest she was taken to a year earlier.
As unoriginal as the plot admittedly is, there’s something to be said for the way Seyfried’s character is developed. Jill’s kidnapping, while understandably traumatic, has taught her to be aware of her surroundings. She pays attention to the smallest of details, from the fact that Molly was last seen wearing a pajama top and boxers to their color and pattern. She immediately notices that (a) all of Molly’s schoolbooks remain on the kitchen table, despite the fact that she had an important final exam that very day, and (b) one of Molly’s ear studs is on the floor. She knows to keep in contact with associates and friends, including Molly’s boyfriend (Sebastian Stan). She proves herself amazingly resourceful and cunning, not just in how she gets leads but also in the way she questions the people she comes across, from neighbors to storeowners to random strangers on the street.
There’s a fascinating paradox at work, here: Jill uses her brains in a situation she’s emotionally vested in. There’s no denying that, above all else, painful memories of her own kidnapping are motivating her. All the same, she understands that locating Molly and bringing her abductor to justice requires a clear head and the ability to reason. It’s not simply a matter of locating them both; it’s also a matter of evading the police, who are now after her. If it were strictly an emotional reaction on her part, if she was nothing more than a crazed vigilante with a gun, we would have no reason to invest in her. At least, not as much. Perhaps the mystery of Molly’s disappearance would be enough to keep us going.
And speaking of mystery, another one of the film’s redeeming aspects is its complete lack of a plot twist. I went into this film believing it not only that it would be a routine thriller, but also that I already had the identity of the kidnapper figured out. How wrong I was. And how happy I was to be proven wrong. This is not one of those films that springs a clever yet implausible revelation on the audience. There’s a definite payoff that comes from a legitimate series of clues. As for the ending itself, I admit that I initially resisted it, for it seemed that there was little in the way of a logical explanation and too much in the way of emotional resolution. Now that think back on it, I’m coming more and more to the realization that the ending of Gone is appropriate. Not very likely, but appropriate nonetheless.