Brothers Dominic and Miles cruise a desolate landscape in their beat up car. They may be running after, or away from, someone but after an standoff for supplies goes awry Miles needs medical attention. Taken in by Vijah in a ramshackle trailer park after their car is sabotaged they will run afoul with the town’s leader Doyle, and his ‘family’ of cannibals. Someone is going to end up becoming the main course.
Drifter starts off promising enough. From that first standoff we know which of the brothers is the leader and which is the follower. We know that Dominic is the one who looks after his brother and is the one keeping them alive in the wasteland (a wasteland of which the horizon is dotted with lights at night but beggars cannot be choosers). After a second altercation in the desert it is clear that Dominic is not someone to be trifled with. He is ruthless, quick to the draw, and treats Miles with tough love.
The editing and camera work crack along and create a sense of anticipation for what is around the corner. It conveys creativity and a level of expectation grows with each passing minute. Between the split frames, quick zooms and camera work Drifter starts stylish and at a level that is not overbearing or confusing.
Christian von Hoffmann`s feature length debut shows that he has the capacity, capability and can think up content to fill short run formats well. With over a dozen short films to his credit that should come as easy as breathing. The first half of this film is terrific with great energy in the filmmaking, edits and camerawork.
However, once the brothers enter the town Drifter stalls horribly and deflates faster than their spiked tire. It is grossly apparent that von Hoffman and writer/star Aria Emory were stretched for ideas when it came to this first full length film. It becomes terribly boring and bland, bringing nothing fresh and new to the cannibalistic family archetypes. Very little in the second half holds your interest which leads us into a key issue with the film.
The ‘family’ that run this small town have the right idea, eliminate the threat first. Thus they murder Dominic, bashing him over the head, so all we have left is a moping and groaning Miles that lays about for the rest of the film. The problem here is when you have eliminated Dominic you have eliminated the driving force for the entire narrative. Now we get to watch Miles weep and cry for the second half of the film, save for the dinner scene and the final five minutes when he finally erupts in a hissy fit of rage. When he finds his fortitude he kills the weakest and most vulnerable member of this horrible family, regrettably the young woman Sasha, leaving him face to face with neck muscles on legs Latos, whom he still has to be saved from. von Hoffman and Emory do add a slight turn at the end of this fight but it is not enough to redeem the second half.
Perhaps, if you want to say this, the second half of Drifter could serve as an allegory for high school hierarchy, albeit a weak one. Miles is the Emo kid. Dominic is the Rocker kid. They come upon a town inhabited by jocks, ripped and greased back Latos and Kane, and the requisite arm candy girl, Gothic Lolita-esque cock tease Sasha. The fringe kids have to fight back against the popular kids who rule the roost. But again, when you have eliminated the hurricane and are left with just the rain Drifter quickly becomes a dull and ineffective thriller.
With a reassessment of what characters solicit emotional attachment and drive your narrative there is enough evidence here to suggest that von Hoffmann can deliver visually stimulating films. Further work on character arcs and motivations will keep his audience cognitively stimulated the full run time on future projects.
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