The Drift (2014) — A gem of an indie space adventure

“Another day, another drift.”

Justin’s rating: I don’t care ’cause I’m still free, you can’t take the drift from meeeee

Justin’s review: If you’re ever in the market for a cinematic underdog — a movie that has all of the odds stacked against it — then I’ll gracefully bless you with a copy of The Drift and ask you to thank me later. Let’s tick off all the ways this shouldn’t work, eh? It’s an indie film, for starters, produced by a studio so small that it’s basically a group of friends who paid for everything out of their own pockets (around $10,000) without any expectation of a release or profit. The studio only made silly movie parodies in the past. It clearly derives its inspiration from the Alien franchise, which makes it one among thousands of knock-offs. And it tried to lay the foundation for new IP that would span multiple movies.

With a plucky can-do attitude, the British crew at Backyard Productions cobbled together an exciting and imaginative movie that hooked me from the first minute and kept me watching to the very end. The Drift’s events take place a couple of decades after a “darkwave” shot through the galaxy and exploded the special crystals that humanity’s vessels were using for faster-than-life travel. This ended up stranding millions of ships and souls, most of whom died in the void.

However, humanity clearly survived in its own way, and “the drift” of the galaxy occasionally brings the graveyard of ships close enough to Earth for slower-than-light ships to go salvage. And so we follow the crew of the Deliverance, which heads out to grab fuel rods and whatever else can be of use back home. However, one of the crew is given a secret mission to find a person who is — against common belief — still surviving in the wreckage.

The comparisons to Alien mostly comes from the concept of a group of blue-collar space workers encountering a threat in deep space that they’re not exactly trained or equipped to handle.

While the indie nature and extremely low budget cause me to ratchet down my expectations, it turns out that I didn’t need to do that at all. Sure, the CGI isn’t the best — think “a bit better than Babylon 5 but worse than your average PlayStation cutscene” level — but considering that they put together an astounding 1,300 shots for this movie, it’s impressive and still quite watchable. Another pleasant surprise was James Griffiths’ score, which gives the movie some emotional heft and even garnered a couple of awards.

But I think that the gritty sets, sharp editing, and a general sense of exuberance put The Drift over the top for me. It’s simply not a snooze fest the way that I’ve seen in some other space movies where they have to save up all of the budget for the creature suit. Stuff starts happening in the first minute and doesn’t stop thereafter. In addition to liberally cribbing from Alien, this film also draws themes and ideas from Sunshine, Firefly, and Event Horizon. That’s fine with me.

I would hope that Hollywood would take note of the talent that could make something like this work on a shoestring budget and maybe throw a couple million the director’s way to go even bigger. In any case, it’s so much better of a movie than a lot of $100 million stinkers that litter Netflix and deserves more attention.

Didja notice?

  • That opening is pretty fantastic
  • Need to get a helmet off fast? Use a buzzsaw on it.
  • The guy snoozing during a crash landing
  • Kids are good for making Space Coffee
  • Crossbows… in… spaaaaace
  • Teddy bear!

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