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FIRST LOOK: DRIFTWOOD (Jan. 07) by Mike C.

Like one of the kids that finds himself held captive at “Driftwood”, it's easy to misjudge Tim Sullivan's new film when you glance at the surface. It's got the kid from the Disney Channel, the wrestler, and that guy from the MTV reality show. It's probably pretty easy for a horror fan to immediately think “teen horror” and dismiss “Driftwood”, but “Driftwood” is not “The Covenant in Boot Camp”, it's not “Stay Alive In Reform School”. If you're willing to toss this film based on the cast you've heard about, then really, “Driftwood” is exactly the kind of movie you need to see.

The film opens up with David Forrester (Ricky Ullman) arriving, obviously by force, at the Driftwood boot camp. He soon learns his parents, still reeling from the death of his older brother and after misreading some of David's journal entries, have placed him in the custody of the camp until his 18 th birthday. David, and the other boys he will soon meet, are overseen by the vicious Captain Kennedy (Dallas Page).

Kennedy runs the camp with both an iron fist and a cruel, forced hierarchy amongst the other boys in the camp that often pits them against one another. It seems the easiest way for Kennedy to get away with his brand of violent discipline is to have the boys beating each other. By his first night in Driftwood, David is having strange visions of a ghostly figure. As the ghostly presence appears again and again, a dark and violent secret begins to reveal itself.

Sullivan and his co-writer Chris Kobin really know how to write teen characters that aren't patronizing, dumb, or clichéd. They feel real, and that's something so rare in horror films. With strong writing like this, you need a cast that's going be able to take the character and really make them come alive.

One of most surprising thing in “Driftwood” is the strength of the performances. (Ok, well maybe not that surprising considering I think Sullivan got the best performance out of Robert Englund in damn near a decade in “2001 Maniacs”.) You're not getting flat, one-dimensional teen stock characters in “Driftwood”. Ricky Ullman plays David with incredible depth. Dallas Page takes the roll of the cruel leader and creates a nasty, violent son-of-a-bitch you just want to kick in the nuts.

More than that, Page is able, in the end, to show Kennedy as pathetic, worn, and broken that he even garners a slight bit of sympathy from us. Also, in his first film, Talan Torriero delivers a surprisingly solid performance as an upper-classman at Driftwood, one of Kennedy's lackeys. Talan shines at the climax of the film and truly adds to the intensity and suspense of these scenes.

The supporting cast, including David's cellmates all stand out on their own. Again, it's surprising to see teen characters that are all different, without being caricatures. Lin Shaye also makes a brief, but very memorable, cameo as David's confused, misguided, but well meaning mother.

“Driftwood” is a very different film from Tim Sullivan, who's last film was the raunchy and tongue-in-cheek “2001 Maniacs”. “Driftwood” is far more subtle in its horror. A quick glance of the ghost here, a little bit more of the horrifying truth revealed there, the story quietly unwinds. Sullivan uses the boot camp setting, with its inherent cruelty and violence to build incredible tension and suspense. It's a ghost story, of course, but it’s clear there are a lot more horrifying things going on in Driftwood than a haunting.

I was frequently reminded of one of my favorite 80's ghost stories, “Lady in White”, in the way that the story was layered. It's a very well written mystery. It's not the supernatural elements of “Driftwood” that are frightening aspects of it. It's the idea of kids being thrown away by their parents, the idea of a man like Kennedy who's so lost in his obviously unreconciled past that he takes his anger out on innocent children with tragic results. What's terrifying about “Driftwood” is the realization as you leave the theater that while ghosts don't exist in the real world, camps like Driftwood, thrown away kids like David, and human monsters like Captain Kennedy really do. – Mike C.


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