Driftwood (review)

While out collecting driftwood on the beach in a remote part of Ireland, Sarah, a French Sculptor, finds half-drowned man with an injured leg. She takes him home to her cottage. When he awakens, the American-accented man has no recollection of who he is or how he came to be in the sea. Sarah pronounces his leg broken and, after a painful wrenching, sets it. She explains to the man that they are all alone on an island and that the supply ship is not due for a couple of months. She takes care of his needs and makes him a sculpture and a pair of wooden crutches. In her workshop yards from the cottage, the spectre of her dead mother warns that the man will eventually leave her just like Sarah's dead father. Sarah strives to hide clues that they are actually on the mainland and to keep away an intruders who might reveal the truth, including the lecherous Mr. McTavish who delivers groceries to her regularly.

As the man recovers and becomes more mobile, Sarah and he become lovers. She tells him that the steep uphill path outside the cottage only leads to a track around "the island." She tries to discourage and frustrate his efforts to explore further at one stage planting an unsuccessful trap for him. Longing to leave and discover who he is, the man becomes annoyed with Sarah's lack of interest in helping him escape and grows distant. One day, she kills Mr. McTavish with an axe when she catches him snooping in her workshop. Waking one morning to find the man gone, Sarah runs to the beach only to see him setting off in a homemade raft. Back at the cottage, the police have arrived and found McTavish's body. A final scene shows the man washed up barely alive on another beach being found by two women who look hungrily down upon him.

"Driftwood" feels undernourished, not dissimilar to the bland 'quota quickies' Britain used to churn out in the heyday of film industry protectionism. Banal and dreary as only a film advertised as "an erotic drama of obsession" can be, "Driftwood" presents the tale of a woman who entraps a man by deception into staying with her in her country retreat. This is a conventional thriller storyline, borrowed from Rob Reiner's far superior "Misery." It's also flecked with devices from Hitchcock's "Psycho" and there's a passing nod to Demme's "The Silence of the Lambs." Also passingly invoked are older stories which feature bewitching females, such as "The Snow Queen" and perhaps even Homer's "Odyssey." These allusions might make "Driftwood" sound more interesting than it is. In fact, the film hobble from one tensionless, unsurprising plot development to the next with all pained progress of James Spader's man struggling to ascend a hill on crutches. (Does Spader favour weird, quasi-masochistic parts such as this and his roles in "Crash" and "sex, lies and videotape," or is he forever being typecast?)

Directed by first-time feature director Ronan O'Leary (who wrote the screenplay for the recent "Frankie Starlight") "Driftwood" also seems
pinched and shy in visual terms. On TV, its banal repertoire of close-ups and wintry long shots of landscapes might seem less repetitious. The
cinematography is pretty and competent enough, favouring slatey greys and blues for the most part (compared to what else's is on offer, lichen has
seldom been more exciting). The warm golden glow bathing the lovers for the sex scene, however is unforgivably trite. Equally embarrassing is the formulaic "oirish" folk themes, complete with lonely pipes and whistles warbling in a minor key, in John Cameron's unremarkable score. Given that neither of the film's stars is Irish this twee musical touch must have been an afterthought concession to the country it was made in.

© By Leslie Felperin, Sight & Sound (magazine.) April 1997.(Thank you, Susan!)