Film Review: Drift | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Friday, June 14th, 2024  


Studio: Utopia
Anthony Chen

Feb 10, 2024 Web Exclusive
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The opening shot of Anthony Chen’s Drift, which features footprints in the sand slowly being washed away by the ocean’s waves, echoes much of the difficult and complex themes explored throughout the 93-minute film. The Singaporean director’s film (one of his two films releasing this year) seeks to ask “If a part of you is washed away, who’s to ever know it was there in the first place?”

Drift follows Jacqueline (Cynthia Erivo), a Liberian refugee stuck on a touristy Greek island, with no money, friends or legal security. She spends her days walking around the island’s towns and countryside, looking for a way to make quick money or secure a means of survival. She keeps a low profile, never interacting with others in meaningful ways besides simple glances or “hellos.” All the while, she reminisces about painful moments from her past in Liberia–refracted throughout the film in the form of brief, minutes-long flashbacks.

Jacqueline’s routine quickly halts when, one day, while exploring the ancient ruins on a picturesque mountaintop, she crosses paths with Callie (Alia Shawkat), a tour guide. While her customers explore the ruins, Callie and Jacqueline begin to talk. Jacqueline pretends she is visiting the island, and that she has a husband waiting for her at home. Their conversation is simple, but there is always something lurking under the surface, something missing, questions waiting to be answered.

Despite all odds, Jacqueline starts coming back to the mountaintop, looking for opportunities to meet and talk with Callie. The two develop an odd sort of friendship, shrouded by secrecy and always har. During these moments, the flashbacks continue to build, revealing more of Jacqueline’s life and the real, painful reasons why she is in Greece and why she has retreated and continues to hide from society.

Even with Drift’s short runtime, the film moves incredibly slowly. Because of the circumstances in which Jacqueline is first introduced, her character is similar to an empty canvas, waiting to be filled in by small details and key moments in her habitual routine. In this regard, every sequence’s unhurried pacing–especially when the film explores the slower, quieter parts of her daily routine–is necessary, serving to methodically illuminate an aspect of her hidden personality. In the end, the pacing benefits the film, keeping viewers engaged with the hopes of eventually understanding the real reasons for her actions, dialogues, and decisions.

Instead, the majority of Drift’s problems arise from the way Jacqueline’s character is framed. Because of the way the story functions, there’s always a sense of immeasurable distance between the audience and Jacqueline. The film’s direction and the screenplay’s use of dialogue and flashbacks only add to this distance, more often resorting to clichés and surface-level themes on past trauma and the horrors of man’s actions, instead of diving deeper into the central character’s personal, extremely specific situation or the dynamics of her fascinating, unexpected friendship with Callie. It’s always clear why the film wants to place a buffer between the story and its central character, especially as Jacqueline’s flashbacks increase in length and intensity. But, this element always makes the film feel slightly mismatched–attempting to represent a grand situation using too little means to do so.

Even so, Drift boasts two fantastic performances that command the film and make it a worthwhile watch. Erivo delivers an astonishing performance as Jacqueline, culminating in a chilling monologue that (yet again) reaffirms her place as an actress to watch in the future. Shawkat is also incredible, and the two’s dynamic and methodical use of silence in their conversations makes the scenes where the two talk the most impactful and memorable moments of the entire film.

Author rating: 5.5/10

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