A pair of outlaw brothers seek temporary refuge in a desolate town inhabited by a small family of psychotic cannibalistic lunatics.
February 24th, 2017 (theatrical)
February 28th, 2017 (VOD/DVD)
Chris von Hoffman
Chris von Hoffman
There was a term thrown about back in my college days (I was a theatre major studying acting) and I couldn’t help but think of it as I trudged through the painful screening experience that is Drifter – a new horror/thriller from writer/director Chris von Hoffman.
The term is “indicating” and per the website of pennytempletonstudio.com, it refers to “Showing what your character is feeling or doing without feeling or doing, leading to a false and shallow performance.”
It’s inorganic and such poor acting choices “indicate” what the actor feels the character should do – rather than just doing it and letting the character take over.
This term certainly applies to the performances in Drifter (we’ll get to that in a moment), but it also refers to the overall filmmaking approach from the powers-that-be.
It’s a dusty almost post-apocalyptic world. Two outlaw brothers (are they really brothers?) Dominic (Drew Harwood) and his apparently not-all-there companion Miles (co-writer Aria Emory) make their way across a desert landscape, pillaging and attempting to survive. When Miles is injured during several violent encounters with ne’er-do-wells, Dominic stops in a small, rundown community in search of medical assistance. They find a potential ally in Vijah (Monique Rosario), who helps to dress Miles’ wounds. But the town is run by a group of loony-tunes cannibals led by Doyle (James McCabe) along with his two main cronies Sasha (Rebecca Frasier) and Latos (Anthony Ficco). And they’re not particularly open to outside guests.
The film reeks of desperation and unoriginality. It pulls from The Hills Have Eyes, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and practically any of Rob Zombie’s films. But it most feels like Zombie’s recent 31 (which I so hated I didn’t even complete my screening – don’t worry, I wasn’t assigned to review that one) – which is not necessarily anything to aspire to. I’m not a fan of Zombie’s work (aside from Lords of Salem). So if this is your inspiration and jumping off point – you’ve already lost a good chunk of your potential audience. It’s here where I will mention that Drifter is “indicating” – pretending to be what it wants to be – in this case, a Rob Zombie film.
The characters are all broad stereotypes with nothing of interest to back them up (or engage the audience). And this is where that “indicating” comes from. Every single one of them (with the exception of Drew Harwood who does some nice work) gave terrifically bad performances. Of note, Ficco as henchman Latos – chose to have strange, nervous tics all throughout, because of course, that’s what a cannibalistic go-to henchman would do, right? Right? And as Sasha, Fraiser went all out and made her character hyper-sexual and loud-mouthed. ‘Cause, such a person would shout a lot, right?
Look… In a film like this, I’m not expecting performances from someone with a vast acting knowledge or ability to mimic Laurence Olivier, but for heaven’s sake, these are still human beings (cannibalistic murderers to be sure) and so there there’s still got to be something human (and believable) for these actors to grab onto. But they don’t. The script is clearly no help, and these broad and ridiculous performances do nothing but turn me off. It seems crystal clear that the various actors and the director conspired to make up these choices together. Here’s how the conversation might have gone:
“I think that Latos would have a weird, distracting hand twitch and would make lots of snarls and laugh maniacally – something which I can’t really pull off as an actor without indicating every single moment of it. But, what do you think?”
Director: (pause) “Let’s do it!”
The fact that the beginning of the film introduces us to a potentially warm and loving relationship between two brothers (and some promising backstory which is never mentioned again) – offers some real hope that we’ll grow to be fully invested in where the film takes them. But this promise is quickly squandered and you won’t care one iota about what comes next.
Another major failure of the film is its lack of an antagonist until nearly 50 minutes into the film’s running time (it’s only 85 minutes to begin with). And Doyle’s goons are introduced only 10 minutes prior to Doyle’s own entrance. So the question becomes, what are the two brothers doing for the first 50 minutes? Sure, as characters they have obstacles to overcome, and we have some minor scraps of exposition to learn. But 50 minutes before any actual drama/conflict arises? Nope. Doesn’t work.
Despite the fact that so many important pieces in Drifter fail, I will point out a few good things which are sure to please most viewers.
It appears as though the film was shot somewhere in the desolate roads between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. It’s ideal location casting for a film like this – dusty, bright and other-worldly. The locations are fantastic – including the very deserted and run-down town filling in for Doyle’s little kingdom. It’s clear that there probably wasn’t a whole lot of set dressing, and that this frightening little ghost town was shown exactly as the filmmakers found it.
I didn’t care for many of the editing choices (they felt forced and pointless – what was with that split-screen?), but overall the film looked pretty good – including some inspired night-time lighting of the brothers early on in the film and a few cool camera set-ups (notably during the climax).
There was a dopey and inexplicable choice by the filmmakers to add strange little off-putting sound effects in random places. For instance, when Sasha double-taps Miles’ arm in the climax to get his attention, it’s accompanied by a little “boop, boop” sound. Huh? Similar things happen throughout and they’re truly a bizarre (and frankly dumb) addition to the soundtrack.
The choice for the film’s ending was completely in-line with the rest of the film – weird and nonsensical. We’re to believe that Miles would do what he did? Why? Where did that come from? And based on what had happened earlier – it makes no sense. Just another gripe in an endless stream of “what were you thinking?”
And yes, let’s have the villain do a “slow-clap” when the main character attempts an escape. That’s never been done before… Ugh.
Overall the film looked good, but made no sense and was filled with mostly awful performances. It’s one big eye roll after another. But Drew Harwood is nice to look at – so that’s a plus.
Drifter is scheduled for theatrical release on February 24th, 2017 and DVD/VOD release on February 28th.