There’s a harrowing scene in “Drifter” where a character is forced to watch an unspeakable act.
We know how he feels.
The indie thriller is a 90-minute punishment. It’s pure grindhouse movie making, but without the impish fun or memorable characters to ground the gore.
Two brothers are driving through a post-apocalyptic America in one of the few drivable cars in the region. Dominic (Drew Harwood) is both the brains and the muscle. Miles (co-writer Aria Emory) appears mentally challenged and needs his brother’s help at every step.
They stumble into a town run by a warped “Mayor” (James McCabe) and his sadistic cronies. They’re all ripped from a Rob Zombie fever dream, to put it kindly. “The Devil’s Rejects” director knows a thing or two about pulp storytelling.
“Drifter” director Chris von Hoffmann isn’t quite there yet.
That story line is as threadbare as it sounds, and it takes forever to fall into place. We get some long shots of the deserted terrain (cool … but quickly redundant) and far too many grim closeups (enough, already).
FAST FACT: “Drifter” director Chris von Hoffmann says the movie “celebrates everything I love about film” in a personal statement posted to YouTube.
The first-time director is a stylist first and foremost, and he squeezes plenty of intriguing visuals out of a modest budget. That sometimes works against the film. We watch a scraggly soul flicking away a cigarette like its the story’s “Rosebud” moment.
Meanwhile, co-star Rebecca Fraiser licks everything in site, from her own finger to the nearest gun.
The production should have paid more attention to the score. You won’t hear a more overwrought soundtrack on any film this year or next. Every sequence stirs a sonic crescendo, the kind normally reserved for the final act.
Other scenes linger for what seem like forever, a real no-no in grindhouse filmmaking. The cardinal sin of B-movies is being dull, and “Drifter” is often guilty as charged.
Since the characters don’t matter and tension isn’t a priority, we’re left pondering the questions raised during the movie.
- How come post-apocalypse types smoke so darn much?
- Why does a plate of human flesh so closely resemble baked beans?
- Shouldn’t these characters spend less time on their punk ‘dos and more on washing their clothes?
- How does co-star Anthony Ficco get those abs without a functional Bally’s or Gold’s Gym?
- Just how much spittle can come out of one character’s mouth? Did they run a hose under Emory’s shirt? It’s gotta be some kind of screen record for drool.
Emory’s character is boiled down to his curly black hair glistening in the unblinking sun. We never get to know him for a second. That matters when he makes a curious decision in the film’s final moments involving a character with a semblance of humanity (Monique Rosario).
FAST FACT: Chris von Hoffmann’s film “White Trash” won ‘Best Guerilla’ short from the 10th Annual Action on Film film festival.
One “Drifter” sequence featuring the Mayor’s toadies guns for a Looney Tunes sense of madness. Instead, the scene deserves the ol’ editing bay snip-snip.
You can sense von Hoffmann’s love for the movies in every sequence. Next time around he’ll have to bring something more striking to the story beyond a passion for grindhouse cinema’s greatest hits.
HiT or Miss: “Drifter” showcases director Chris Van Hammond’s sense of gritty aesthetics. There’s little beyond that to recommend the film, though.