DEAD END aka DRIFTER (2016)
Starring Aria Emory, Drew Harwood and Monique Rosario
Directed by Chris von Hoffman
Written by Chris von Hoffman and Aria Emory
UK DVD Release from High Fliers Films on March 6th
“A pair of outlaw brothers seek temporary refuge in a desolate town inhabited by a small family of psychotic cannibalistic lunatics“.
The story of Drifter pretty much goes like this. If you take the Gecko Brothers from Tarantino and Rodriguez’s classic From Dusk Till Dawn, roughed them up and put them in the middle of an arid post-apocalyptic, just about to go Mad Max wasteland, and then had them stumble upon the family from Texas Chainsaw Massacre and their mutant cousins from The Hills Have Eyes, then you’ve pretty much got it.
Seriously. The script actually replicates wholesale dialogue, even scenes, from those films and others. This kind of thing is basically the reason I’ve grown so tired of Tarantino and Rob Zombie. So why the high rating?
Because this film is an absolute assault on the senses, that’s why. In his feature debut, director Hoffman, a veteran of music videos and short films, has less directed the script as directed the living shit out of his script. Imprinting a gritty, flashy, grimy and relentless vision all of his own, Drifter is less directed and more choreographed, like an 80’s dubstep goth rave in the desert. There are images here that are truly stunning, the way Hoffman frames the landscape, follows his characters, captures the day and the night. It all feels iconic. His energy behind the camera is non stop, reaching even crazier heights in the moments of savagery.
And choreography is nothing without music. My oh my, the soundtrack in this rhymes with the visuals in a way we rarely see these days. It’s a pulsing, pounding, monstrous beast from Nao Sato, and it’s a marvel. I swear there were moments in this film where the combination of movement, framing, action and soundtrack nearly had me cheering. Everything just clicks to create a sensory overload. I think this is what makes the film work so well. The script and story may lack originality, but its execution is anything but derivative. The feel of this film, the texture of it, the sound of it, is like nothing I remember seeing. Yes, it’s showy and attention seeking but it bloody well deserves it. Drifter is Hoffman trying not to make a splash, but to kick all the water out of the tub. And I need to own this soundtrack immediately.
The performances are also extremely fun. As our heroes, Emory and Howard take stock characters and rough them right up, make them lived in and raw. But our villains have the most fun. James McCabe is fantastically sinister as the childlike patriarch of the clan, Doyle, and Rebecca Frasier is the most devious white trash doll you will find. But the standout was Anthony Ficco as the Danny Zuko on acid Latos. A twitchy, nightmarish bottle of bloodthirsty rage, he’s a fantastic villain.
Although technically the film is a striking marvel, with sights and sounds that are seared into my brain, it’s a real shame that the script is such a hodgepodge of scenes and dialogue from other movies. In this case it’s not a deal breaker, but it would’ve elevated this to cult-classic status. But maybe the reason it’s all so blatant is because that was the point. So, if Drifter is a love-letter to a particularly grimy type of cinema, it’s a kinetic and visceral success. But we will have to wait for the next film from Hoffman for originality.
As it stands, Drifter is an everything and the kitchen sink project done right. An angry, vicious, grindhouse fever dream.