Young David (Ricky Ullman) is dragged from a van by two burly bastards. He thinks he's being thrown into prison, but he's arrived at Driftwood "attitude adjustment" camp for unruly teens.
David's introduced to club manager Kennedy (Diamond Dallas Page). After an initial "nice guy" act, Kennedy makes it clear he's not going to take any shit. He then shows a video that David's parents had pre-prepared, explaining to their son how they can no longer cope with his constant talk of death since his brother's drug-related demise.
Then it's off to Level 1, the dormitory where David will be staying. In bed that night he's awoken by a silhouette creeping out of the dorm. He follows the figure down the corridors and is led to a wall adorned by black-and-white photographs of the boys being held at the camp.
As David's gaze centres on one boy - the one he thinks he's been following in the corridors - dorm mate Noah (Jeremy Lelliott) appears, and tells him that the boy has "gone" … and that David's photo will soon replace his.
The following morning guard Yates (Talan Torriero) wakes the Level 1 boys and introduces David to the group: the subdued Noah, gobby Darryl (Cory Hardrict), cocky KC (David Skyler) and aggressive Boyle (Frankie Levangie). They're all mental but that's okay - David's a loose cannon too.
The unfolding day is the usual rites-of-passage stuff: bullying here and there; one character persecuted for their sexuality; a beating; a doctor who befriends David; advice on survival in the camp passed on furtively across the table in the lunch hall. The boys even go on work detail to Kennedy's on-site home, where they toll in the garden as he and his beautiful daughter Myra (Baelyn Neff) sunbathe. David is struck by Myra and she clearly has an eye for him too. But she is of course out of bounds …
That evening, David is disturbed again by the figure in the hallway and follows it back down the corridor to the wall of photographs. David's photograph has now replaced the other boy's, but the other boy appears as a strange shadow on David's photo.
Before he has a chance to query this, David is caught by Kennedy, who orders the rest of Level 1 to give him a thrashing. Afterwards, Noah sadly reveals that it's just like what had happened to Jonathan. When David asks who Jonathan was, Darryl quickly shuts the group up.
The plot thickens the following morning when the doctor reveals that the lad in David's photograph is Jonathan, Kennedy's nephew who had drowned in a swamp while attempting to escape from the camp.
More spooky shenanigans unfurl - Jonathan's image appears before Kennedy's eyes on a CCTV screen; Noah freaks out in class before revealing more truths to David - while in the meantime Kennedy takes David under his wing in a bid to appeal to the boy's better nature. But this leads to David getting closer to Myra, while all the time being convinced that the ghosts of his brother and Jonathan are trying to reach him and help him solve a murder mystery on camp …
DRIFTWOOD has a decent setting that allows for ever prison/correctional facility convention to be played out at an even pace. Each one is a cliché but that doesn't stop them from fleshing out characters in competent fashion, helping us to root for David while gradually building Kennedy and his wardens into loathsome beasts that are fun to hate.
The horror elements of the plot are subtle and restrained in the style of contemporary Spanish genre efforts. Coming from Tim Sullivan, the American who directed 2001 MANIACS, that's a tad surprising. But it shows some versatility - the man has made a transition from comedy splatter to something more soberly disturbing.
For DRIFTWOOD does marginally disturb, if only in it's themes of bullying, suicidal tendencies, confused teenaged sexuality and child abuse (the way Kennedy can hide the abuse from David's visiting parents is insidiously creepy). As a horror film, perhaps it's a little too reserved - lengthy passages seem to forget about the ghost story, which means that by the time the ante is upped and scary faces appear to Kennedy in the final third, it's almost peripheral to the plot.
As a prison film, this is enjoyable if light and low-budget fare. Performances are good (even Page turns in a solid, charismatic performance). Humour is still evident, a little too broadly at times, and the film doesn't achieve the eeriness I felt it was striving for. But it works as another bow to Sullivan's arrow, and I'm interested to see what he does next.
Fans of 2001 MANIACS beware though, there's only minimal gore or FX, and a distinct lack of boobies on offer here. We do however get a script that rises above its SCOOBY DOO-style plot and a decent set of US rock songs on the soundtrack.
The promo screener disc provided offered an animated main menu page which led straight into the main feature. On this screener disc the film was graced with 31 chapters.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer offered was quite strong, with sharp and detailed images. Video was marred slightly only by overly dark images and minor grain. The washed-out colours of the presentation appeared to be a natural photographic choice. Audio was provided in English 2.0 and sounded good to these ears.
Although no extras were available on the screener disc, the press release made mention of a number of interesting bonus features scheduled for the retail release.
These included (deep breath): audio commentary with Sullivan and producer Chris Kobin; second commentary track featuring Sullivan, Kobin and Page; photo gallery; bloopers reel; deleted and extended scenes; auditions reel; alternate ending; Behind The Scenes featurette; "Through The Gauntlet" Making Of documentary; 5 weblogs; trailer.
DRIFTWOOD isn't original and it isn't overly memorable as a horror film. As a straight-to-DVD low-budget offering though, its heart is in the right place and it wants to win your approval. It doesn't reach the heights of the Balaguero and Del Toro films it's no doubt influenced by (THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE sprung to mind), but - ill-advised humour aside - it's sombre tone is commendable and on the too-few occasions when it does offer the poe-faced ghost spooks, it manages to be moderately effective.
Well worth a look.
Review by Stu Willis
|Released by Starz Home Entertainment|
|Region 2 - PAL|
|see main review|