Wednesday 20 July 2016

15 Second Review: Hope Lost

Hope Lost (2015) draws on a premise so familiar that I genuinely spent the first 20 minutes questioning whether I had seen the film before. The story is a mishmash of clichés about sex trafficking rings, treading a path already taken by Eden (2012), Human Cargo (2011), Sweet Karma (2009), Slave (2009), Shuttle (2008), Trade (2007), Holly (2006), and numerous other horror/thrillers during the last decade. Even the cast list (Danny Trejo, Michael Madsen, Daniel Baldwin) reads like a warning that the film is likely to be generic. Yet, amidst its barrage of predictable, unpleasant, and admittedly effective incidents, Hope Lost has a trump card. It does not need an original storyline, because this is a concept movie. The conceit is revealed in the opening, during a scene that takes us to the film’s final set-piece; in voice-over, Gabriel (who is later revealed to be a snuff film director), states that ‘one of the golden rules of cinema’ is that ‘before inevitable doom, there must always be a scene of hope’. This is exactly what the film delivers across a series of increasingly grim events, each of which is preceded by a glimmer of hope: potential escapes, attempted rescues, promise of “a new life”, and so forth. Of course, all are thwarted, as Gabriel promises. None of this is surprising, given that the film is entitled Hope Lost, and we have already glimpsed the protagonist’s fate during the opening seconds. What is notable, however, is that the film is so relentless in its pursuit of this conceit and so irrepressibly bleak. This combination leads to a single question: why would anyone watch such a movie? This meta-commentary is presaged by the overtly cinematic language advanced by Gabriel, the director of the film-within-a-film. The lead protagonist suffers endlessly here, but the film is not designed to make her torment pleasurable for the audience: that is another cliché, one that is proposed by critics who fail to understand the genre. Pleasure stems from rooting for an ordinary person as they attempt to conquer extraordinary adversity. This is the ‘hope’ referred to in the title Hope Lost. It is such a powerful compulsion that, as Hope Lost demonstrates, the filmmakers can rely on the audience to keep hoping, no matter how unreachable the goal appears to be, how often hope is snatched away, or how blatantly the character’s fate is signalled. Hope Lost has its flaws, but the filmmakers’ insistent adherence to the core concept is admirable. 

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