Whether it’s through nuclear holocausts, global war, disease, meteor strikes, natural disasters or other forms of devastation capable of wiping out civilisation as we know it, post-apocalyptic worlds have served as backdrops in literature and cinema for quite some time. Mary Shelley’s The Last Man (1826) is often cited as the first notable tale set after the end of the world while, in cinema, the genre shot to popularity post-World War Two as real-life fears pertaining to atomic bombs gripped the planet. However, one of the most popular backdrops for post-apocalyptic cinema is the desolate sun-scorched, sand-coated wasteland populated by human beings who have embraced their lawless, animalistic impulses. Therefore, killing people and having them for dinner isn’t out of the norm in these universes, and Drifter, the debut feature-length from Chris von Hoffmann, is the latest entry to feature the tasty taboo in a world gone wild.
The story is simple: outlaw brothers Dominic (Drew Harwood) and Miles (Aria Emory) are seeking refuge from the dangers of the wasteland when they stumble upon a small town that just happens to be inhabited by a clan of cannibals, whose moods range from hungry, homicidal and horny. Their leader comes in the form of the eccentric Doyle (James McCabe), whose personality is somewhat reminiscent of Mayor Buckman (Robert Englund) from Tim Sullivan’s remake of 2001 Maniacs (2005), even though his appearance is more like Pee-Wee Herman. As you can imagine, the locals aren’t the hospitable type when it comes to strange visitors and it’s only a matter of time before the proverbial poop hits the fan.
Drifter is a no nonsense, unpretentious genre hybrid and a love letter to the films that clearly inspired it. It won’t score points for originality, but it will hit the sweet spot of those who appreciate filmmakers who unabashedly pay homage to exploitation fare. The story of two outlaw brothers bears some resemblance to From Dusk till Dawn (1996), though their relationship is similar to the dynamic between the protagonists in David Michod’s Australian post-apocalyptic drama The Rover (2014). Aesthetically, Hoffmann appears to be inspired by genre cinema from The Land Down Under, as there are obvious nods to the Mad Max movies, Wolf Creek (2005) and The Proposition (2005). However, the kinetic editing, offbeat tone, and desert setting channels Oliver Stone’s U Turn (1997), and the final third celebrates The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), with a hint of the carnivalesque chaos of the 1986 sequel and Alexandre Aja’s The Hills Have Eyes (2006).
That’s not to say that Drifter is just a mixtape of other movies like, say, Neil Marshall’s post-apocalyptic opus Doomsday (2008); while Hoffmann’s film is a stylish slice of fan service that’s perfectly fine for 90-minutes of of good humored, mean spirited, violent fun, he is able to channel his myriad of influences to adhere to his own vision, and the results are enjoyable. That vision is merely to give those who share his good taste a coming together and culmination of the nasty cinema they love, and those who enjoy films of this nature will probably have fun with Drifter. Those seeking anything other than popcorn entertainment might be let down by it. Furthermore, those seeking sheer unbridled mayhem with plenty of bloody punch might be a tad disappointed; Drifter is dreary, dreamlike, downbeat and sadistic, but conventionally so. For some, that will work in its favor, but to others it might be a tad generic.
Overall, Drifter doesn’t do much to differentiate itself from the other neo-Grindhouse movies we’ve seen countless times before in recent years; but if you enjoy films of that ilk, then it’s worth checking out. One thing is for certain, however: Chris von Hoffman is a filmmaker worth keeping an eye on, and one of many emerging indie talents with some serious potential. His debut full-length is an extremely well-made visual feast with satisfying gnarly moments and evidently a product of someone who loves cult cinema, but you get the impression that there’s more to come from the young maverick.
Courtesy of XLrator Media, the film is in now select theaters and available on VOD and iTunes from 28 February 2017.
Rating – 3/5