There are certain moments where you’ve got to be honest with yourself. Yes, it’s been bloody hot this week, the kind of suffocating heat that makes Siberia suddenly sound decidedly inviting, but the fact is that I haven’t used this week as well as I could have done. I’ve made a couple of major breakthroughs on the novel, getting good ideas and clarifying sections of the plot that were, to be honest, terrifying the hell out of me, but I haven’t used my time well. And time is ticking away- I’ve got four more days, and then I’ve got my 28 day voyage into solitude that will (hopefully) result in me having something vaguely resembling a novel at the end of it. I don’t like the fact that my determination can fade so easily- but, at the least, I have got 140,000 words to prove to myself that my determination is capable of producing something– just as long as I can go the whole hog and actually finish it.
I did, at least, manage to crack one particular plotline- and the solution I’ve come up with is, I’m slightly shocked to say, a gigantic homage to one of my favourite films, the spectacularly wonderful guilty pleasure that is FLASH GORDON. I keep worrying that I’m not being highbrow enough with this, or that it’s going to be an insane hodge-podge (the influences at the moment include James Lovegrove, Phillip K. Dick, Alan Moore, Douglas Adams, Iain M. Banks, P.G. Wodehouse and chunks of Neon Genesis Evangelion just for starters…), but then I remember that the key word is ‘romp’, and this needs to be the way I want it to be. It’s going to be a big, bold, colourful pop song of a novel. Of course, whether anyone wants to actually publish anything like that is a completely different story…
George is on her way back from a trip home– the first venture of her fledgling art business that she’s starting up with her mum and her sister, and apparently it went pretty well. Dinner will be happening soon, as she’s terribly hungry (called me from the train, you see…) so must go soon.
Out of the various films I saw this week, there was one- a thriller called ADRIFT- which sent my brain into a tailspin for a whole variety of reasons. Here’s a loose review, but one with major spoilers for both the film, and one of the films it heavily resembles. Consider yourself warned…. ADRIFT
@@@MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD, INCLUDING THE ENDING OF BOTH THIS FILM, AND THE ENDING OF “OPEN WATER”. CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED!@@@
Name the film:
Some young, fun-loving, sexy people go out on a boat trip. They decide that a swim would be a great idea. Something goes wrong, and suddenly they’re stranded. The weather turns. The situation gets desperate. People die.
Now, if you answered OPEN WATER, you’d be exactly right. However, what we’re actually talking about is ADRIFT, a new German-financed thriller loosely based on true events, that splices together the aforementioned OPEN WATER with a small dose of DEAD CALM and the basic set-up of THE DESCENT. Shot in big-scale widescreen and with a selection of mostly unknown actors (the lead performer played the Shakespeare-crazy best friend in 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU), it’s the kind of film that has a killer suspense set-up, and yet doesn’t quite have either the script or the performances to carry it through some seriously rickety patches.
The story starts with six friends on a luxury yacht, heading off the coast of Mexico (which, unfortunately, is very clearly filmed in Malta) for fun and partying. Four of them went to high school together, and now one has a husband and baby in tow, while another has acquired a beautiful blonde girlfriend that we first meet in one of those strategic sex-scenes where you don’t actually see anything. So, they head out with fun in mind, and the only real problem so far is Amy- the mother of the baby- who has a major fear of water thanks to witnessing her father drowning when she was young. As a result, she’s clad in a lifejacket for the whole trip, and there’s also a small amount of friction between her and Dan, the rich asshole of the group who she used to date in high school before her marriage.
The first half an hour or so is set-up, and if the performances are a little creaky in places, there’s enough visual style and occasionally ominous moments to make it plain that something very serious is going to go wrong– which happens when four of the group decide to go for a relaxing swim. Leaping into the ocean, they leave rich asshole Dan and hydrophobic Amy behind, and after a short amount of time, the familiarity between the ex-couple is leading to Dan making what turns out to be a seriously big mistake. Joking around, he suggests that the best way of curing her of her phobia is to confront it head-on, and then impulsively picks her up and leaps with her into the ocean.
It’s a moment that’s played well, from Amy’s perspective as she goes into near-catatonic shock as a result, and it’s then that the others discover exactly how much of an asshole Dan is, as he hasn’t lowered the funky automated ladder that emerges from a hatch in the side of the boat. He hasn’t lowered the anchor. In short, there’s no way of getting back in the boat, they’re out in the middle of nowhere, and the only person left onboard is Amy’s one year old daughter, who’ll soon be waking up and wondering why she hasn’t been fed in a while. The shit has, as they say, truly hit the fan.
Now, one of the biggest problems here is that ADRIFT is essentially an almost theatrical six-characters-trapped-together story, and this kind of thing lives or dies on the quality of the performances and the dialogue. One of the best examples of this kind of film, for me, was the brilliant CUBE, but even there, you get moments where the acting is cranked a little too high, and the dialogue doesn’t quite sell the situation, and ADRIFT has too many of those kind of moments. We get the apologies. The arguments. The screaming. The panicky, “We’re all gonna die!” member of the cast. The unexpected confessions. And, we get death scenes- long, drawn out death scenes. Every member of the cast is required to be at maximum emotion level for a major amount of time, and not all of them are up to it, particularly Eric Dane as Dan, who simply comes across as a bland beefcake and doesn’t sell the more emotional parts of the story. The best element of OPEN WATER was the way it showed the relationship between the couple fracturing under intense pressure, but here it comes across to often as random, contrived squabbling, and makes you like the characters less.
An even bigger problem, however, is the fact that the situation doesn’t really change that much. There are minor setbacks, but essentially, it becomes a question of whether or not this is an “Everybody dies” storyline or a “one sole survivor” storyline, and the suspense set-up depends entirely on none of the characters thinking rationally, or saying “hey- couldn’t we use the knife we’ve got to wedge into the side of the hatch, and maybe climb up using that?” Now, okay- people don’t always think rationally in these kinds of situations, and apparently this kind of maritime accident happens much more frequently than you realise, but you’ve got to actually sell it to the audience. You’ve got to keep the audience in the characters shoes, rather than letting them get one step ahead and think “Yes, but if they tried this…”, and it happens a few too many times in ADRIFT for comfort.
On top of this, it’s way too long. OPEN WATER had its problems, but one of its major advantages was that it kept its running time nice and short, and even then, over a third of the movie was outside the water. They knew that sustaining interest in a situation where you’ve just got people floating in water non-stop would be tricky, and they used that to its advantage by crafting the cinematic equivalent of a short story. Here, it goes on too long. By the second lengthy, drawn out death scene, it’s very difficult to care, and it doesn’t matter how nicely shot it all is- you just want to find out whether anybody makes it or not.
And here, we reach the doozy. The absolute, what-the-fuck-just-happenned moment in the movie, where what could have been an interesting but very flawed exercise in suspense transforms into the kind of film where people stagger confused from the cinema saying “Huh?” You see, ADRIFT is a fight for survival story, a tale where you’re supposed to care if the characters are going to make it, where you want to know whether or not any of the characters make it to the finish line. So, is it a grim OPEN WATER style ‘Everybody dies’ tale, or is it an ‘Escape from the jaws of death’ tale for the plucky mother who gets reunited with her baby after conquering her fear of water?
I don’t know. I’ve seen the film, and I don’t know. It’s actually played so completely ambiguously that you don’t know if people survive or not. It’s very possible that the final shot is of one of the characters’ ghost. It’s possible that one of the characters may have murdered another one. It’s possible that none of them made it back. It’s just confusing beyond words, and essentially cheats you out of the simple answer to the principle question of the film. It’s not satisfying in the slightest.
The climax to THE DESCENT (with which this has many similarities) is both dark and ambiguous, but ADRIFT is just confusing and annoying beyond words in its final minutes, which is a shame, as first-time director Hans Horn does show some genuine flickers of serious talent. Certain sections of the film are beautifully put together, and Susan May Pratt as Amy does some great work, having to project abject terror for virtually the entire movie– it’s just a shame that, ultimately, it’s unravelled by some performance problems, and that head-scratcher of an ending.