Drifter (2016)

Two brothers on the run come afoul of one group after the other until they reach a seemingly abandoned desert village.  There they meet a young woman who helps them and meet with a family of crazy cannibals. Written by Chris von Hoffman and Aria Emory, based on a story by von Hoffman who also directed, Drifter is a film about survival in the desert post apocalypse that shows every character but one as bad people.  The “bad guys”, the cannibalistic family unit, are truly bad, while the brothers come off as being bad people out of necessity and desperation.  Only one character seems mostly good but also a victim of some weird form of Standahl Syndrome.  She’s the one who attempts to help the brothers before things really go to shit for them.

In the post-apocalyptic world built here, one that is close enough to current Salton Sea area California to feel true, people have lost hope and begun adapting by becoming criminals, evil, or flat out crazy.  Out of the small group of characters in the main part of the film, the lesser of evils are the ones the viewer can side with even as they do bad things.  The film does contain its fair share of references to other horror films and to cannibalistic horror tropes, but it looks to wear its influences on its sleeve while using them rather well.  Some scenes will remind people of The Road Warrior, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and a slew of other inspirations.  These are used in a way that makes them more subtle references except for a dinner scene that looks and feels like it wants to be “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” but doesn’t want to step on the giant’s toes at the same time.

Other than that scene, the film uses its influences and references like what seems like an 80s kid creating their own version of all the post-apocalyptic sub-genre they have ingested over the years. The cast of Drifter is not glamorous which is perfect for this type of story.  Playing the brothers Miles and Dominic Pierce, actors Aria Emory and Drew Harwood look like anything but brothers, but they show somewhat of a bond of brotherly love and a certain level of care of each other that sells them as brothers within a certain limit.  Some of their reactions to what happens to the other are on the understated side so it’s not quite enough but this may be a coping mechanism for these characters (or this reviewer is willing to give them too much benefit of the doubt).  Harwood gives a strong, slightly louder type of performance while Emory is a bit more of a lost and hurt boy forced into being strong in a moment of despair to try and survive.

Playing an interesting yet understated victim/helper is Monique Rosario who shows shades of conflict while she seems to struggle with the material at times but is a welcome softer character amongst a group of tough ones.  Playing the cannibalistic family are James McCabe as Doyle as their leader and chief tormentor to the brothers, Anthony Ficco as Latos the more volatile member of the family, Rebecca Fraiser as Sasha the batshit insane female family member who may or may not be related to the other two, and Jack G. Davis as Ivan the kind of grandfather figure.  This family is all connected through their madness, but their presence and performances vary widely.  McCabe gives an interesting performance while Davis is so understated he feels barely there.  Ficco gives a demented interpretation of a desert cannibal that feel a bit like it’s been seen before and is not the best for the material while Fraiser flat out feels out of place as she takes the bat shit crazy and goes to town with it.

Her performance feels like she’s trying a bit too hard unfortunately, which comes off like she went 110% crazy, not having much nuance or variety.  The few other cast members are ok in their small parts. The film takes this hodge podge group of characters that all end up connecting in some way through miss deeds and places them in the desert which from the looks of things seems to be somewhere near the Salton Sea (possibly Bombay Beach?) and uses the dilapidated and sun bleached houses there to an effect that creates this close future that doesn’t feel quite like the now but not quite like it could be impossible.  This is all shot in a way that adds to this with cinematography by Tobias Deml who uses the harsh lighting in the desert and darkness well, using them to make the place look more desolate and desperate.

These images are accompanied by music by Nao Sato that moves between regular score music and synthwave stylings reminiscent of the Turbo Kid score at times which is not entirely a bad thing.  The music works in some places but in others feels a bit out of place sadly. Lastly, the special effects by Kris Kobzina, Edward Malys, and Devin McDonagh are pretty good, with decent blood and a main course that looks properly yucky in the darker light but looks a bit fake in the bright light.  This does hurt the effect of the main scene it is in. Drifter is a movie with some good ideas, some clear influences and references, a love for madness and cannibalism, some decent effects in general, and an atmosphere that feels just right for its post-apocalyptic desert story.

In theaters and VOD on February 24th.