Stars: Aria Emory, Drew Harwood, Monique Rosario, James McCabe, Anthony Ficco, Rebecca Fraiser, Joseph Atash, Melissa Raquel, Jack G. Davis, Craig Rose, Jonah Ehrenreich, Bram Barouh | Written by Chris von Hoffmann, Aria Emory | Directed by Chris von Hoffmann
After a botched robbery during which one of them takes a grisly wound to the hand, two brothers hide out in a small desert town. Before you can say ‘abrupt tonal shift’ they’re besieged by bloodthirsty monsters and fighting for their lives against forces darker and nastier than they could ever hope to be. No, not vampires – crazies and cannibals.
From the desert-drenched visuals to the wannabe left-field tonal shift and ‘badass’ sibling duo, it’s quite obvious from the outset that Drifter really wants to be From Dusk Till Dawn. It’s a comparison that’s openly welcomed; a film which would love to have “From Dusk Till Dawn meets The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” blurbed all over its DVD case. Someone even – and quite deliberately – tells someone else to “be cool”. Twice.
The cadence is all wrong though: many have tried, but there’s only one Quentin Tarantino. Writers Chris von Hoffmann and Aria Emory have certainly turned in a rambunctious script, and there’s definitely a Robert Rodriguez-esque verve to Hofmann’s direction (in places), but otherwise and ultimately, the film is not helped by such comparison. So I’ll stop doing it.
When it’s not imitating crime films from the nineties (sorry, last time – honest!) it does feel like an authentically 70s slice of Grindhouse, drifting in its influences from The Hills Have Eyes to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, via Mad Max (the cheapest one) and 2001 Maniacs. Throughout, the soundtrack pumps into overdrive and there are some terrific desert vistas and action sequences to be enjoyed. While the actors are typically flat in that familiar low-budget kind of way, nobody is exceptionally bad – although it would have been nice to have a more charismatic ‘hero’ or villain (eccentric is not the same thing, bright red hair or no).
At a brisk 80 minutes, the story nips along quite nicely, barely waiting 20 minutes before it begins to indulge in its Texas Chain Saw influences (hello, blood-drenched weird girl in the road). None of this is remotely original, but the direction is so snappy and hyperactive that there’s no time to ever really get bored. Its influences serve it well, and fans of slightly offbeat Hillbilly horror should have a good time with it – the ‘frying pan into the fire’ school of absurdist horror being mildly reminiscent of a Takashi Miike or Rob Zombie joint.
That promise never quite translates into us being genuinely hooked though. For all its grit and good intentions, Drifter is simply too predictable and transient to ever stand on its own two feet.
Drifter is out now in the US. The film is released direct to DVD in the UK on March 6th, courtesy of High Fliers.