Judge Adam Arseneau is floating underwater, breaking into pieces, pieces, pieces...
Haunted by death. Beaten by life. No one escapes the pain.
Haunted by DVD reviews. Beaten by B-movies. Can this DVD reviewer escape the pain?
Well, if it starts professional wrestlers, I'd wager the answer is "yes!" Right?
Facts of the Case
After the death of his rocker brother, David (Ricky Ullman, Phil of the Future) becomes obsessed with death. He begins to brood, think dark thoughts, and act like a disaffected teenager. Horrified, his parents ship their remaining son off to the Driftwood Attitude Adjustment Camp for Troubled Youths, where he will learn to be a productive member of society, or something like that. The camp director, Captain Doug Kennedy ("Diamond" Dallas Page, the freakin' wrestler!) is all Southern charm and hospitality to the parents as he takes the boy into his care, but soon reveals himself to be a sadistic despot, ruling the camp with an iron fist.
Despite the rigorous work, the abuse and bullying by the inmate-turned-guard Yates (Talan Torriero, Laguna Beach) and the brainwashing from the so-called teaching staff, David cannot shake the images of his brother's death from his mind. Worse, he keeps glimpsing shadows out of the corner of his eye, flashes of a ghostly figure prowling the camp. As he learns more about Driftwood, he realizes the sordid affairs of the Captain may stretch deeper than simple cruelty and fraud…
Driftwood is what happens when two films try to occupy the space of a single cinematic body. On the one hand, you have a solid, if not interesting, story about egregious youth homes for troubled boys, reprogramming centers that violently extract dissent from their wards—a legitimate practice and a subject with enough juice to squeeze an entire drama out of. On the other hand, you also have a ghost-driven horror film. Where these two films meet is when Driftwood gets ugly.
The horror elements in Driftwood are clumsily executed, rather nonsensical, and a bit random, as if tossed in to close loose plot holes and wrap the film up in a violent fashion. After viewing the supplementary features included on this DVD, it turns out this is exactly why they were included—the film originally had a more down-to-earth, action film-styled resolution full of big explosions and drama, but the modest budget restrictions forced writer and director Tim Sullivan (2001 Maniacs) to come up with cheaper ways to entertain. Hence the supernatural elements—they feel tacked on because they are. The end result falls somewhere between a made-for-television sequel to The Crow and an Insane Clown Posse music video.
If, however, you forget about the goofy horror aspect and focus on the actual heart of the film, Driftwood is surprisingly sound. The truly creepy element of Driftwood is that, at least conceptually, the story is true. Real places like Driftwood actually exist, where parents send their "troubled" teens to be rehabilitated at the hands of some crazed prison guard who beats them into good behavior, and many of the plot elements came from real-life experiences from the young cast, many of whom attended such facilities. It may degenerate into goofiness (the awkward Columbine references get a bit tiresome) but Driftwood treats it subject seriously (save for the ghosts) in chastising a society that allows its citizens to be so afraid of its own children that they lock them up for being disaffected, or homosexual, or for wearing black trench coats and possessing a fondness for Morrissey. Oh, these paranoid times.
As for the performances, Driftwood is notable for giving Phil from Phil of the Future a serious part to work with—that of a "teenage Steve McQueen" according to the director. Ricky Ullman puts his big, steely eyes to good use as the forlorn and sulky David, sent to virtual prison by his confused and alienated parents for having (gasp!) emotions. If he manages to break himself away from his corporate Disney overlords, the kid might have a decent acting career in his future. Talan Torriero (Laguna Beach) is solid, but more forgettable. On the downside: he might be able to bench press this Judge above his head and slam him down into the mat, but "Diamond" Dallas Page languishes in the acting department. At best, his portrayal of the Captain is merely a conceptual re-hashing of various wrestling persona adopted throughout the years (in particular, that motivational speaker crap they had him doing in the WWE). Physically, he certainly sells the part as believable in his big, beefy way, but his best scenes are when no dialogue is coming out of his mouth. Unfortunately, the Captain has a lot of dialogue, and his hokey Southern drawl just gets more ludicrous as the film rolls.
Driftwood fails to elevate above its schlock horror roots, but all things considered, for a low-budget offering, you could do much worse. A moderately talented cast and an interesting subject matter keep the film on track through the stiff, awkward dialogue until the end, when the ghosts and supernatural elements sink the ship entirely. Still, the positive points just barely outweigh the negatives, and that counts for something. I wish the film had had the foresight to recognize its core material about the horrors of rehabilitation camps for troubled teens to be a subject matter sufficiently terrifying, and one not requiring ghouls and goblins and garbage tacked on. The added baggage weighs the film down into the obscure depths of B-movie horror films, where more outrageous contenders lurk in crowded waters.
With its tight budget, low production values, and hurried shooting schedule, Driftwood looks surprisingly good on DVD. Excessive grain gives the film a minor washed-out appearance, especially in skin tone, but the colors are saturated enough to give a nice appearance overall, and there is no noticeable print damage present. Audio rocks out with a DTS 5.1 and Dolby Surround 5.1 track, as well as a 2.0 option. The differences between the two surround tracks are minor: bass response is minimal, but environmental noises are well-represented (if a bit center-channel strong) and dialogue is clear throughout. When the action sequences kick in, the audio cranks out sufficiently to make the experience worthwhile. An impressive audio offering for a small-budgeted film!
Extras are nice and impressive, with two full-length, chatty commentary tracks with director Tim Sullivan and producer Chris Kobin, and one with Tim Sullivan and wrestler Diamond Dallas Page. Diamond's a fun guy and all, but the first track is a bit more substantial for the film aficionado. Sullivan talks non-stop throughout, but has a nice grasp of his material and the filmmaking craft, making for a pleasant listen. An alternate ending, with director commentary is included, as a well as two "making of" documentaries. The first, a 30-minute feature, "Through the Gauntlet: Inside The Walls of Driftwood" and a 5-minute feature, "Doing Time On The Set Of Driftwood" go behind the scene with cast and crew, discussing the ins and outs of the project conception through to filming. Some deleted and extended scenes (with commentary) are also included, along with a blooper reel and a cast audition reel, a theatrical trailer, and a photo gallery. For a single-disc presentation (with nice surround sound) this is a fantastic offering. Props to Image for cramming every available bit full of space.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Credit where due: for a low-budget film, these guys sell the presentation. Strong production values and excellent casting locations all belie the film's modest financing, and for the most part, the film is well acted. It may be a B-movie through and through, but there is talent here, just below the surface, struggling vainly to break through the ice.
I do believe there is a good film in here somewhere, but Driftwood remains forever trapped between two distinct personalities—a troubled teen drama and a ludicrous ghost story. Also, for future reference, adding professional wrestlers into the mix will not alleviate this problem.
A near-miss, but Driftwood is ultimately undone by its preposterousness.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
• Commentary with Director Tim Sullivan and Producer Chris Kobin
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