The arid, po-mo genre feel of writer-director Chris von Hoffmann’s Drifter arises because it feels like a film influenced by films which were themselves homages or remakes – not just the obvious Tarantiness or Rob Zombie knockoffery but a sense that this would like to evoke the feel of the remakes of The Hills Have Eyes and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre rather than the originals. It’s hardbitten and extremely well put-together for an indie, but it’s also oddly affectless. The supposed emotional core of the movie is the bond between brothers Miles (Aria Emory,who co-scripts) and Dominic (Drew Harwood) as they drive through a post-collapse-of-society desert in search of revenge against the murderers of their father (a thread that never becomes important and is dropped) but the spark between them just isn’t there – it’s mentioned that the brothers don’t look alike, so the possibility of a more complex relationship is raised before that gets dropped too. At several points, competent hardman Dominic lets weaker, nervier Miles take beatings before intervening … but then, just to precipitate a third act, the warrior lets his guard down and is killed, his head propped up on table at a cannibal banquet while Mayor Doyle (James McCabe) tries to act like every season’s Walking Dead baddie rolled together and given a clown makeover.
In the first shot, our hero Miles is trying to rob some guy – then gets shot through the palm (obligatory eye-through-the-wound framing) before being patched up with duct tape. Later, three baddies waylay the brothers in the desert and nearly kill Miles before Dominic comes back from having a think and offs them. And that’s before they stop over in the town of Dexl for some doctoritng from Vijah (Monique Rosario) and a brush with Doyle’s gurning eccentric cannibal goons (Anthony Ficco, Rebecca Fraiser, Joseph Atash) that bumps up Miles from tagalong to leading avenger. All the stuff you expect happens – the victim forced to eat his relative’s cooked meat, the loser who gets the drop on the villains, the bad guy who monologues his backstory, characters who come over as tough but also irredeemably dumb. The widescreen look is nicely gritty and sweaty and Nao Sato’s score is distinctive, but there’s not much new on the table – even if the centrepiece is a severed head.