February 11, 2008

DVD Review: Driftwood

In 2005 Tim Sullivan's debut feature arrived on DVD, and what a debut it was. It was a fun and bloody sequel/homage to splatter pioneer Herschell Gordon Lewis' 2000 Maniacs, aptly titled 2001 Maniacs. That was a fun excursion into camp horror. With his second outing Sullivan has turned a corner and stepped away from overt gore and horror in general, instead he delivers a more psychological outing with a grounding in the real world. Does it work? Sort of. The base story is an interesting one, one that definitely has some relation to what is going on around us, but it lacks the courage of its premise and steps away from the dramatic thriller bed to throw a sheet of supernatural fluff over everything that steals the soul of the story.

David Forrester (Raviv Ullman) arrives, shackled, at Driftwood. He doesn't know why he is there, and he is not terribly happy about it. Here, he meets Captain Kennedy (wrestler Diamond Dallas Page), a retired Marine who runs the center. He is a charismatic individual who buys into his own hype as something of a savior for troubled youth. What follows is ninety minutes of cat and mouse between the two, with the upper hand being tossed between them like a live grenade. The Captain attempts to retain iron fisted control while David asks questions that nobody wants asked.

Let's back up a little bit.

What is Driftwood? Driftwood is an "attitude readjustment center" focusing on troubled boys in need of "correction." These centers actually exist. Their primary reason for being is to take these troubled boys (and girls, I would presume) whose parents are unable to deal with them, and apply some force to get them on the correct track. Typically what happens is the parents of said youth approach the center, sign a contract, and the center sends people to essentially "kidnap" the youth and transfer them to the center where they can begin their rehabilitation. I actually know somebody who used to work as a "kidnapper." It is a rather strange and frightening thing. Most of these places have reports of abuse related to them and I cannot imagine ever going to one, or that they are allowed to continue operation, but they do.

David is troubled, surrounded by death and suffering from depression, he has withdrawn into himself to the point that his parents are no longer able to provide adequate support. David lost his older brother, of who there was a strong case of hero worship. His inability to deal has led him down a path that could potentially lead him to a similar fate, one which his parents do not want to see.

The real problems for our protagonist begin when he spends his first night in Driftwood. Prior to entering the facility, David was haunted by visions of his brother, but now there is a new face appearing to him. It is a ghoulish spirit that leads to the asking of undesired questions. The further in we go, the more the dark history of the facility (and it's captain) comes into the light.

The execution of Driftwood is a mixed bag. The exploration of what Driftwood stands for is interesting, exposing its dark underbelly to the harsh light of day, forever tainting the positive reinforcement and discipline that is espoused in the infomercials. It is a premise that is ripe for the picking, and Tim Sullivan (and co-scribe Chris Kobin) nearly succeeds. What drags the entire exercise down is the supernatural element, which forces an unneeded horror element into a story that could do well enough on its own. It feels tacked on and forces the exposition rather allowing the story to build organically out of the characters and their experiences.

Still, despite narrative issues, performance issues, and dialogue issues, Driftwood still manages to hold some interest as an accomplished low budget film. Shot with little money in a scant 15 days, Sullivan did a good job of working with what he had and making great use of the abandoned prison that serves as their primary location. It is not nearly as entertaining as 2001 Maniacs, but it provides a more unsettling story that has much more in the way of subtext and real world comparisons.

The acting is rather one note with much of the cast filling cliched roles. Raviv Ullman turns in a decent performance, far from his work on Nickelodeon's Phil of the Future. This is a transitional feature for him that could potentially point to a more varied filmography as he grows as an actor. Dallas Page is pretty good in his over the top role as Captain, although it lacks any real bite or menace.

Audio/Video. Both are rather average, and can likely be tracked to the low budget roots. The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, 5.1, and DTS 5.1. Why this would need a DTS track is beyond me, but there it is. The video is a washed out 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen.

Extras. For a low budget feature there are a host of bonus material:
  • Commentary. Track features Tim Sullivan and Chris Kobin.
  • Commentary. Track features Tim Sullivan and Diamond Dallas Page.
  • Alternate Ending. Features commentary. The ending used is considerably better than than the original ending, which is this one.
  • Through the Gauntlet: Inside the Walls of Driftwood. Much more in depth behind the scenes featurette that actually has some interesting information on the making of the movie.
  • Doing Time on the Set of Driftwood. Brief making of featurette.
  • Deleted/Extended Scenes with Commentary. Nine deleted and extended scenes, including the complete infomercial for Driftwood.
  • Blooper: "The Barbecuing Type." Lame blooper reel.
  • Audition Reel. All of the audition reels for the actors who won their respective parts, with commentary by Tim Sullivan.
  • Driftwood Trailer. The trailer plays up the supernatural aspect, the exact reason not to watch it. The other portion has more weight and substance.
  • Photo Gallery.

Bottomline. I cannot fully recommend this title, but it may be worth it for you low budget film fans to rent when you run out of other stuff to watch. It is admirable what he was able to achieve in such a short period of time, but there is a better film hiding in there struggling to get out.

Very Mildly Recommended.


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