THE DRIFTER (2014)
UK RELEASE DATE – TBC 2017
A troubled motorist travels across small town USA in Craig Calamis’s slow burning thriller. He passes through gas stations and motels in vehicles he probably doesn’t own, stopping occasionally to mess with local hoodlums. Just who is he and why is he posing an a cop? What kind of demons does he have pushing him forward? As the story unfolds some of this will be explained, though in some cases it leaves a lot to be desired.
A flash-forward establishes a couple of key points here as Chris, AKA The Drifter (Christopher Lee Gibson) talks to himself while driving. It’s the standard sort of internal discussion, the kind where a person practices how to talk to the police if they get pulled over. Clearly he’s got a few problems on his mind, and maybe one more in the trunk of the car.
There are a few details given early on including the face of a mysterious woman flashing into his mind. He sits awake in his hotel room looking disturbed as dramatic lighting from the window blinds falls onto his troubled brow. There are occasional bursts of violence towards business owners and troublesome teenagers. Or are there? Some things are clearly not what they seem. It partially channels American Psycho at times, or even a little Falling Down, but it’s never written well enough to convey a strong sense someone on the edge of sanity.
After driving around for a while Chris stops a town where he stays at a motel. He gives the owner a story about being a detective on a top secret case who can’t be disturbed in his room. The guy just sort of buys this and takes his money, and only gets mildly upset when Chris borrows his car. Vague excuses without much evidence are easy to get away with apparently, I guess it’s just that kind of town. Conveniently the local sheriff Steven (Bruce Jarman) is a childhood friend of Chris’s, and it’s soon very clear that some bad blood from their past still exists. Steven stirs up some old memories and decides to mess around with Chris, even though his next story about being a travelling architect doesn’t sit right with him.
Why the sheriff doesn’t see the local license plate belonging to the hotel manager until much later isn’t clear. Why Chris sticks around so long in his jurisdiction isn’t clear either. Character actions don’t quite fit the situation which seems to be pretty awkward. In the diner, waitress Layla (Amanda Powell) takes a shine to Chris, but Steven decides not to mention the wedding ring he saw Chris taking off at the table. The drama that begins to unfold doesn’t really make a lot of sense either.
The plot, of which there’s not a great deal, revolves around Chris and his memory of the mystery lady, and Steve’s old grievances combining with his suspicious nature. However their unexplained past isn’t really developed much further beyond a high school grievance. It’s a very slow story and there is some atmosphere, but it’s almost lacking entirely in tension as people sit around drinking coffee. Chris hides out counting his bag of miscellaneous wallets, watches and phones, but some things are never explored. There also are long stretches without any new revelations.
If Chris had a more personal reason for staying or a clear cut problem with the locals it might make more sense, but he just arrived at random, and this reunion is just by chance. Some of the murderous acts he commits are definitely real as things go on, which removes the intrigue that could have been mined from the situation. Layla likes him too much and too quickly for a total stranger, and Steven doesn’t seem to care enough for someone that is keeping an eye on shady goings on in the town. The crime investigation elements are not utilised very well and the psychological thriller scenes are all too brief.
Character motivation and development is sorely lacking, and these are things which are kind of vital in this sort of story. The mystery details are slowly revealed but they don’t have a lot of gravity, and some of the events that lead to this point feel random and disconnected. Chris never really fits the archetype as an unhinged vigilante or just a killer who is coming apart at the seams, and while the performances are solid they don’t have enough real charisma to elevate the material. Fans of low budget stalker plots or gritty neo noir movies will have to look elsewhere for their fix.