Driftwood (2007)

Driftwood reviewStarring Dallas Page, Ricky Ullman, Talan Torriero, Jeremy Lelliott, Lin Shaye

Directed by Tim Sullivan

The world is an infinite jumble of information and circumstances crossing over into our lives, often via a TV or computer screen. When an event of significance is picked up by the world press, we can’t help but live out the moment alongside our neighbors even though we might live half a world away from where the event is taking place. Of course this only lasts as long as our attention spans will hold us, and when the press ends its coverage, we disconnect, not noticing the ripples the event has caused long after. These manifest as changes in the way we react to things people do and how we interpret simple things people say offhand. Tiny details become signs of events to come. As fear builds, even the way laws are made are affected.

The Columbine massacre was one such event that had America watching with horror and sadness. As bodies were buried and families began to heal, the press moved on to other things, but a fear had been conjured and began to fester. Something had to be done to stop another Columbine before it happened again. This is the world we live in — and the very real world of Driftwood.

Driftwood is the name of a home for boys who, however inadvertently, are crying out to the world that they need to be “fixed”. This plea for order can be something as direct as thievery and drug abuse to a blog stating you sometimes wish for death to an admission of preferring men to women. Whatever the problem, ex-marine Captain Kennedy (Page) is the cure. What does an ex-Marine know about turning a boy’s life around? Well, next to nothing, but the Captain is willing to lend a swift backhand or a boot to the head to change their way of thinking.

Driftwood reviewWhen David Forester (Ullman) comes to Driftwood, a different kind of ripple is caused. Death surrounds David, putting him in touch with otherworldly forces walking the halls of the compound. These forces cry out, and as David attempts to uncover what keeps them tied to this place, he asks questions some people would not like answered. This is the story of boys given up by their families, left in a cold world where their strength determines their survival and nothing can be trusted.

Driftwood is probably the first indie horror movie for teens! The pacing of the film, coupled with the rock music found in each scene, will remind you of a theatrical release with a 12- to 18-year-old target market in mind. That would stick if there weren’t a whole lot of cursing. Does that make it PG-13? When we discussed the film with director Tim Sullivan, he did drop the title The Outsiders from time to time, comparing his crew of boys to the now classic film cast. The comparison is definitely fair as the Driftwood crew deliver stellar performances that kept me in the moment by raising the level of reality every time they uttered a word. It’s challenging enough to come up with a group of characters who are different enough to be individuals yet bond, however slightly, over a common situation. That is just step one. Next you have to cast people that can act for it to all be believable.

Ricky Ullman makes a big departure from Disney’s “Phil of the Future” as David Forester, a boy who loses his brother and begins a spiral of depression that leads him to Driftwood. David is a product of our time with parents, played flawlessly by Lin Shaye and Marc McClure, who are so desperate to “save” their son that they throw him to the wolves. Ullman creates a character that is at once funny, introspective, and the kind of little asshole you might run into at the mall as they plow into you without a word of apology.

The story throws David into a number of situations that take him in and out of favor with Captain Kennedy and his team from moment to moment. To convey this, Ullman moves from scene to scene in a sort of haze with an expression of disbelief that he even wound up in this place. It works perfectly.

Driftwood reviewActing as a counter weight to the hapless strength of David is Page’s turn as The Captain, dripping with arrogance and no shortage of puffed up, frat boy-like false bravado. The Captain is the testosterone drunk high school football coach driven mad with power. He believes his own hype 100 percent, and he’ll make the kids buy into it to, even if he has to make them bleed to get them there. You can practically feel the man spitting in your face as he gets up close and personal to hammer a point home. Dallas Page treads the line between a menacing prison warden and over-the-top, straight-up bad guy with the precision of a tightrope walker. Seriously, having gone 2% further in a number of scenes would have made the character comedic and dismissible. Page delivers.

Other memorable performances include David Eigenberg as compound guard Norris, providing some comic relief in the heat of tense moments. Jeremy Lelliot’s Noah delivers a timid but quietly seething character among a room full of wanna-be bad asses. Finally, David Skyler as KC, the former jock brought in for drug abuse, never fails to cause a laugh in almost all of his scenes. This is not to discount the rest of the cast who work so well together, then help draw you into the story even further.

Seeing as you are here to read about horror and not some touchy-feely coming of age tale, I have to admit there isn’t much here. The creeps of Driftwood come in the form of a ghostly figure walking the halls of the compound and haunting the dreams of David. If he is effective with a teen crowd, only time will tell, but the older people in attendance at my screening (at the Pioneer Theater in NY) never seemed to jump once. Is the apparition effective? Well, I’ve seen worse in Sci-Fi Channel original movies so while that isn’t saying much, it’s still not bad work.

Driftwood reviewTim Sullivan doesn’t shove his spirit down your throat, instead keeping him to the shadows and popping up in flashes of visions. Very good call there. The location itself lends to a ghost story with its claustrophobic rooms, long empty hallways, and large metal doors as far as the eye can see. There is even, inexplicably, a room full of bikes piled so high they almost touch the ceiling. That visual alone is creepy as fuck, although what it’s saying about the compound is beyond me. Was the former tenant the old “Get off my freaking lawn!” guy who steels big wheels? Never you mind. The visual works, and Sullivan swears it was already there when they showed up. Freaky, huh?

In stark contrast the days at Driftwood are bright and clear as the boys do yard work and are teased by Myra (Baylyn Neff), The Captain’s steamy daughter who slides seductively from scene to scene. This enhances your apprehension for what is sure to happen after the sun goes down or even when the boys re-enter the compound where sunlight only finds entrance through mere slices of window just out of reach.

Driftwood is one part Holes, one part Cool Hand Luke, with a little dash of Stir of Echoes thrown in. While the story is somewhat predictable, the characters are engaging enough to make the time fly by. Tim Sullivan presents a story of desperation wrapped around a study in fear, whether that fear is of a physically imposing authority figure or a supernatural being. The walls of Driftwood hold more than one dark secret, but revealing them could mean the death to all who know. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

Be sure to watch out for Driftwood when it comes to your town during its limited release and support well written, well executed independent movies! We need a lot more like them.

4 out of 5

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Jon Condit

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