Save for its few flashback moments of horrific, haunting trauma, Drift, the largely quiet story of a west African migrant reeling from the unimaginable on a Greek resort isle, is straightforward on the eyes. Director Anthony Chen’s movie, from a screenplay by Susanne Farrell and Alexander Maksik, offers harried aftermath the sheen of tranquil the Aristocracy, resilience hiding in plain sight – the gang of barely clothed, languid white our bodies dotting star Cynthia Erivo’s opening stroll down the seashore, the bleached yellow of the Mediterranean solar, the best way Erivo’s Jacqueline slowly, fastidiously washes her one set of garments. Even Jacqueline’s night time ritual, arranging plastic luggage of pebbles for a makeshift seashore cave mattress, takes on the lulling rhythm of a reverie.
It’s quite a lot of compelling aesthetic, anchored at most turns by Erivo’s dedicated, tense efficiency, that like many a Sundance film can solely cowl a lot undercooked construction. Drift, primarily based on Maksik’s 2013 novel A Marker to Measure Drift, depends on Jacqueline’s trauma-fragmented reminiscence to unfold the story too slowly. For the primary half hour, Jacqueline is generally a cipher, scrounging for cash by way of beachside foot massages by day, flitting via shadows and dodging bigoted police by night time. We catch tantalizing snippets of her clearly suppressed previous in too-short flashbacks – a time when she had lengthy braids and a white British girlfriend (Honor Swinton Byrne), a time when she lived in England, a joyful second together with her privileged minister’s household in militarized Liberia. The script’s spareness – what 12 months is it? How did Jacqueline get right here? Why is she so alone? – provokes equal components thriller and frustration.
Issues decide up a couple of half hour in, as soon as Jacqueline encounters a conspiratorial, caring tour information named Callie (Alia Shawkat). An American émigré with a sunny disposition, Callies takes an curiosity within the skittish Jacqueline, for causes which can be by no means fairly clear sufficient. The connection, nonetheless thinly sketched, introduces much-needed momentum into the story – to reply any of Callie’s questions, Jacqueline should lie (her British accent permits her to pose as a vacationer on vacation from London) in a method her white-knuckled grip on traumatic recollections can’t maintain.
The remainder of the 93-minute movie performs as a personality research of Jacqueline’s tentative therapeutic beneath the eye of one other particular person – generally sort, generally badgering, at all times remarkably constant – and the eventual reveal of absolutely the horror that flung her, penniless and terrified and alone, from Liberia. That revelation is gut-wrenching, and meticulously edited to convey simply sufficient atrocity with out tipping into gratuitousness. The remainder of the movie, in distinction, feels too blunted on the edges; scenes between Jacqueline and Callie, which lean closely on glances and freighted silences, play as irritating fragments somewhat than sentences.
Drift advantages immensely from the commanding presence of Erivo, who is best within the extra dramatic expressions of emotion – sobbing via the reveal of her story, or panicking at a triggering expertise of claustrophobia – than she is in Jacqueline’s mode of blinkered inwardness. Whether or not it’s an underdone script or the character’s repression or Erivo’s efficiency, Jacqueline usually comes off, within the quieter moments, as curiously clean, although at all times intriguing. Shawkat is given even much less characterization, however nonetheless pops on display; a greater film would have made way more out of her charisma and Jacqueline and Callie’s chemical, nascent curiosity in one another.
Drift is finally, apart from the climactic sequence which clearly relays why Jacqueline hides out and barely appears folks within the eye, a movie that leans too exhausting on suggestion. There’s hints of a flirtation of between Jacqueline and Callie, of Jacqueline’s previous life with a white British household, of the hazard posed to Jacqueline by anti-migrant sentiment on the Greek island (one other level muddled by the movie’s free time interval; the novel is about within the aftermath of a violent political coup in Liberia in 2003). Every thread is individually intriguing, particularly as embodied by Erivo and Shawkat. However collectively, it’s a skinny tapestry. Although superbly rendered and delicate to the muzzling grip of trauma, Drift leaves an excessive amount of unsaid.