Drifter, the debut feature-length from Chris von Hoffman, is post-apocalyptic cannibalistic action yarn which gleefully pays homage to the films that inspired its creation. A romantic mixtape to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), George Miller’s Mad Max series and others, the Drifter wears its influences on its sleeves with pride. While the film won’t win any plaudits for originality, it’ll certainly go down a treat with genre fans who have a special fondness for this type of neo-Grindhouse cinema – the type of movies which take the visceral elements of the bold exploitation movies from yesteryear and present them with a modern, stylish and commercial sensibilities.
Drifter is an enjoyable film for what it is, and while it doesn’t seek to be anything more than a send up to Hoffman’s cinematic loves, it does boast enough strong qualities to suggest that Hoffman has a bright future in the genre. Recently Diabolique had the opportunity to interview the up and coming director to discuss the film, his influences and future projects.
Diabolique: Drifter is a mashup of multiple genres and it appears to wear its influences on its sleeves. What films and filmmakers inspire you?
Hoffman: That was certainly the point. I wanted my first film to be extremely personal so I felt like I needed to release my ultimate nostalgia film.
As far as films… The Shining, Apocalypse Now (1979), True Romance (1993), China Girl, High and Low, Army of Shadows, King of New York, Bad Lieutenant (1991), Another Day in Paradise, Seconds, The Hunger, etc. There’s just too many.
Some of my favourite directors are Abel Ferrera, Martin Scorcese, Sam Peckinpah, John Frankenheimer, Billy Friedkin, Brian De Palma, Tony Scott and Paul Verhoeven. I like bold and aggressive filmmaking with a commercial edge.
Diabolique: Drifter is very mean spirited, but in an entertaining way. It makes you root for characters who are villainous. I love movies like that. For you, is it more fun to make movies about the bad guys?
Hoffman: I personally love mean spirited movies and really get off on cynical undertones to films. I enjoy spreading this moral quagmire throughout the picture and creating these morally ambiguous characters that you may or may not cheer for, but you enjoy going on the ride with them.
Diabolique: I read that Drifter was originally supposed to feature supernatural forces instead of cannibals? What made you decide to switch to flesh eaters?
Hoffman: I had the idea to have the town possessed by supernatural forces over 10 years ago, when I was 16 and initially thought of the concept. Then cut to a decade later when I pulled this idea out of the archives and felt like this was the right project for me to helm as my first feature. Cannibal savages just felt more cinematic aggressive, but they also brought the budget way down. It was a mix of economic and creative reasons.
Diabolique: How do you feel about supernatural horror? Due to its massive popularity, many horror fans seem to be opposed to it at the moment. However, it is popular for a reason and seems here to stay for the foreseeable future.
Hoffman: I enjoy it but I rarely think it’s executed properly. So many writers are more caught up in the religious aspect with churches and priests. That stuff just bores me. I thought Adam Wingard’s pilot for the Cinemax show Outcast was the proper way to modernize and sort of reinvent the approach to supernatural storytelling.
Diabolique: Back to cannibalism… Under any circumstances could you envision yourself eating human flesh?
Hoffman: Not at the moment, but never say never.
Diabolique: Prior to Drifter you directed several short films. How did you find the jump from that medium to feature filmmaking?
Hoffman: I’d been consistently directing and self-producing my own short films for six years straight before delving into my first feature, so I was pretty confident going into this production.
I didn’t find many differences, just a lengthier and more intense commitment. But overall the mechanics remained the same – it just felt like a longer short film to me.
Diabolique: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced making the film? That heat must have been quite uncomfortable…
Hoffman: The heat was definitely horrific at times because we were filming in August 2015 in Bombay Beach near the Salton Sea. It cranked up to around 115-120 degrees and reeked of dead fish, but it really enhanced the experience.
However, it was truly the pre-production and sculpting the soundtrack that were ultimately the most migraine-inducing parts of making the film. The logistics on such an extreme micro budget were incredibly tedious, and the soundtrack is essentially wall-to-wall throughout the film. That was very time consuming but worth it.
Diabolique: Are there any independent filmmakers working at the moment you think people should be aware of?
Hoffman: Adam Wingard and Jim Mickle are really fabulous up and coming directors that need to be more recognized, with a bigger canvas – which I feel is just around the corner, especially with Wingard’s Death Note adaptation. They’re incredibly skilful and very disciplined. I admire them a lot.
Diabolique: Do you have any projects in the pipeline you can tell us about?
Hoffman: [I’m] currently in pre-production for my second feature which I wrote and will be directing towards the end of April. We’re thick into casting right now. It’s certainly a big step up on every level from Drifter so hopefully it’ll be an improvement.
Diabolique: How can we support you and keep up-to-date with your future projects?
Hoffman: My main social media outlets right now are Facebook and Instagram and you can simply find me there under my full name, Chris von Hoffman.
If anybody is interested in seeing some of my previous short films, you can look me up on Vimeo here.