Friday, November 16, 2007

Driftwood (2007)

Tim Sullivan, director or 2001 Maniacs, follows up that 2005 gorefest with the much more subdued ghost/coming-of-age tale Driftwood. Driftwood is Sullivan’s deeply personal and very heartfelt film and, at its best, shows he is no one-trick pony good for only raucous and bloody horror comedies. At worst, though, it’s a mediocre ghost tale that plays more like a dramatic after-school special than a horror film.

David Forrester (Ricky Ullman) finds himself placed in Driftwood, a detention center for troubled male youths after his parents (the familiar faces of Lin Shayne and Marc McClure) read a blog he’d written about death, which leads them to think he would harm himself. David just lost his older brother to an overdose, but his parents just don’t understand his fixation with his death. They think that Captain Kennedy (Diamond Dallas Page) can straighten him out and teach him how to be “a man” within his youth rehabilitation compound (aka prison). David is immediately branded a smart-ass and heckled by the Captain and his underlings. He is even forced to run “the gauntlet,” a military-style course, while his Level 1 bunk mates beat him. David keeps his cool and a stiff upper lip and earns the respect of the others. Meanwhile, David keeps seeing a ghostly presence and learns that the Captain’s nephew, Jonathan, who was also interned there, mysteriously disappeared. As he gets closer to solving the mystery, he may very well put his own life and the lives of those around him in peril.

Tim Sullivan is a sweetheart and I really wanted to like this film. No matter how much I like the director personally, though, a review is ultimately about the FILM itself and shouldn’t be biased. Not to worry, I’ll be as honest with my review as I normally am. While Driftwood would have functioned perfectly fine as a drama or coming-of-age story, its horror aspects fall disappointingly short. And I’m not talking just blood and guts here. While I absolutely loved 2001 Maniacs, I went into Driftwood knowing it would be tonally different. I didn’t want a hilarious gorefest. I wanted a smart, thrilling ghost story. Instead, I got a well-directed, well-acted teen movie about overcoming opposition and staying true to one’s self. Hmmmm…not exactly what I signed on for…

As just mentioned, Driftwood is directed and acted very well. Tim Sullivan creates a brooding, morose atmosphere within the prison of Driftwood. The stark and sterile place is the LAST place people should want to place their “troubled” kids. Driftwood’s ruined grounds, dark corners and unused rooms create a forlorn and lonely atmosphere. The atmosphere is reflected in the characters, all who have been condemned for being “different” and “troubled” when really they are just normal kids on their way to growing up. The actors do a wonderful job portraying their individual characters, especially Ricky Ullman as David. His eyes convey such deep and violent emotion that immediately reminded me of my own teenage angst days. On the flip side, you have a terrifically terrifying Diamond Dallas Page as the mean Captain. His performance is probably the best of all, bringing an all-too-real horror to the screen.

Still, despite the creepy direction, depressing atmosphere and great performances, I found the “ghost” aspect of the story to be sadly lacking. While the film starts off like the Thai film Dorm or Guerillmo del Toro’s masterful The Devil’s Backbone, it quickly devolves into silly jump scares and flashes of the ghost. There is no feeling of dread and definitely no good scares. The ghost himself looks like an Insane Clown Posse member when we first get a good glimpse of him. His eyes and mouth are ringed in black makeup in stark contrast against his white face, making him look more comical than anything else. There are no scenes that sent chills down my spine and the “mystery” surrounding the ghost was pretty obvious. Everything involving the ghost just seemed very amateur. I will say that the only creepy scene, involving David trying to convince his visiting parents what is really going on, a locked door and a disturbing image on a security camera, was done very effectively. I just wish there were more scenes like that throughout the film, because the rest of it plays like a bunch of misfits learning that there is nothing wrong with being themselves, solving a mystery and sticking it to The Man…kinda like a darker John Hughes movie with a Scooby Doo twist.

Tim Sullivan’s heartfelt tale comes off as a little too much drama, not enough horror. While it certainly doesn’t lack solid direction or acting, its story just didn’t focus on enough thrilling or horrifying elements to keep my attention, and I am a reviewer in the horror genre that actually LIKES movies with a slow burn.
Ultimately, Driftwood is a disappointing and, yes, boring film. Good for a rental if you want to see a very different style from director Tim Sullivan.

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