A pair of outlaw brothers seek temporary refuge in a desolate town inhabited by a small family of psychotic cannibalistic lunatics.
There’s a certain kind of storytelling in horror where a movie feels like it’s going one way and then it takes a hard left turn into the horrific events. As the viewer becomes comfortable with the story being told, the rug is pulled out from under them and they end up experiencing something completely different. There are many examples of this kind of storytelling. It works well in most cases.
One example of such a story was the movie Drifter (2016). The 2016 release was about Miles Pierce (Aria Emory), a man who was always getting himself into trouble and not knowing how to get out. He was accompanied on a post-apocalyptic road trip by his brother Dominic (Drew Harwood), a hot headed tough guy who was always cleaning up Miles’s messes. When Miles was injured in a botched car theft, they headed to a seemingly abandoned town for a safe recovery. Only, it wasn’t as safe as they expected and all hell broke loose.
The turn that happened about halfway through Drifter was well executed. It was the one point in the script that was well done. The tone was shifted from the post-apocalyptic brothers on the road story to a semi-interesting horror tale about a town run by crazy people. The shift from one to the other wasn’t sudden. It wasn’t forced in to make the two sections of the movie fit together. The shift felt like a natural bridge between the beginning and the end, letting the viewer go for the ride into the darkness.
Speaking of darkness, let’s get into the visuals. Drifter was a well shot, beautiful movie. The director and cinematographer knew exactly where they wanted to place the camera to get the perfect visual scenery. With a movie that wasn’t all that entertaining, the visuals were a big part of keeping interest. The colors of the open desert, the darkness of abandoned buildings, and the deserted look of the town were all well designed to make the most of the visual storytelling medium.
Most stories can’t only be in the landscapes and locations where they are shot, though. There needs to be characters to do things within them. The performances were alright. None of them were spectacular, and none of them were bad. They filled their roles decently enough. Drew Harwood played a good tough brother to Aria Emory’s self-endangering brother. Anthony Ficco and Rebecca Fraiser were having a blast as a crazy couple who lived in the dangerous town. James McCabe was a solid enough post-apocalyptic warlord type. None of them went beyond being good though. There were no standouts and nobody was bad enough to watch and be astonished by the bad performance. They all ended up feeling middle of the road in a middle of the road movie.
What made Drifter feel so mediocre was the script. The first half felt derivative of other, better crime movies. If you took out the post-apocalyptic setting, it could be any of the many movies where criminal partners flee to Mexico. There was nothing to set that portion of the movie apart from everything else. The second half was derivative of other movies, where an outsider is held captive by a crazy family and tries to get free. Again, it did nothing to set itself apart from the many other movies that have told the same kind of story. The character types were the same. The situation was the same. The way it turned into that sort of story was almost the same. Though the movie landed the transition well, the two stories that it transitioned between were not interesting. They were stale, played out blueprints of story structures that needed something to make them fresh. That something wasn’t there.
Though the visuals of Drifter were well conceived and well executed, they couldn’t save the movie from feeling like something that had been made many times before. It suffered from tying together two stories that had been played out in other, better movies. The acting was okay, and the transition was well done, but overall, the movie didn’t rise above the crop to stand on its own. It will forever remain one of the pack, destined to be lost in the shuffle.