I moved to Los Angeles in the Spring of 2014, three days before my 25th birthday, in the hopes of working in the film industry. After completing my studies, I was confronted with the reality that the mass amount of content coming onto the big screens were high-budgeted popcorn films, which isn’t exactly where my passions lie. These franchises had been firmly cemented in its audience from graphic novels to comic books, raking in billions of dollars as another superhero fought an evil entity and a Jedi stood at the edge of a cliff for some reason.
The industry had been split between these franchises with large commercial viability and independent movies rising through the festival circuit. Before the Summer of 2018, I was pretty pessimistic about the direction of the industry and the stories that were being told. It all just felt so simple. Marvel fatigue had set in long ago, and it looked poorly for under-seen independent movies as award recognition focussed more on Twitter heat than anything else.
That same year I came to a film that sat right in the middle of the dichotomy, and it gradually built an audience through word of mouth. It wasn’t surprising in a Summer scorched with Superheroes that an epic of a smaller scale was released and evaded. A recent viewing reconfirmed that I must share my love for this film, so as you wander into the weekend wherever you are in the world, let your Saturday night film be the adventure of Adrift.
Director Baltasar Kormákur was already known as an auteur in natural disasters. He explored a fisherman’s survival in freezing ocean temperatures in The Deep (2012), and in 2015’s Everest, wreaked havoc on a crew’s expedition to the peak of Mount Everest. So naturally, when I saw he was tackling yet another harrowing survival tale, the true story of Tami Ashcroft, who survived 41 days lost at sea, I was relieved.
The film is written by Aaron Kandell, Jordan Kandell, and David Branson Smith, based on the book by Tami Ashcroft and Susea McGearhart, and stars the viscerally talented Shailene Woodley as Tami Ashcroft.
The story begins directly in the middle of the adventure, with the boat stranded in the middle of the ocean and the top deck shattered from having gone through one of the worst hurricane’s ever recorded. Tami heaves herself out of the lower compartment, takes in the destruction, and upon realizing her isolation in the big blue, lets out a bone-chilling wail. Told in dueling stories, we then see Tami as she arrives in Fiji and meets world sailor Richard (Sam Claflin) for the first time. The pair get to know each other slowly, taking a trip inland to a beautiful crevasse of turquoise streams and sharing their love of sailing while riding on the ocean breeze.
When we cut back to the vessel, Tami has to proceeds to fix the broken pieces of the boat, manages to raise a small sail, and begins to venture toward land. The journey is harrowing, but not more so than when we continue cutting back to see Tami and Richard setting sail on a voyage destined for San Diego and how their lives get turned upside down. It’s the parallel stories that reinforce the notion that you never know what’s coming, especially when life is at its sunniest.
Fortunately, Baltasar Kormákur doesn’t lay the drama of the events on too heavily. He shows us the most important details of the journey to further understand their burgeoning relationship, and through Editor John Gilbert and Cinematographer Robert Richardson, manages to capture the most harrowing moments of the storm. This isn’t the Poseidon adventure where the boat takes half an hour to flip over. It’s not even The Day After Tomorrow where the wave entering New York quickens and slows based on the tension the director wanted to create. Instead, Adrift plays out in real-time, generating a realistic portrayal of being within the grasp of a hurricane in the middle of the ocean while sailing on a small boat. The climax reaches such a crescendo that, even though it’s over within moments, it reverberates for hours afterward.
Shailene Woodley lives and breathes this role. She also serves as a producer of the film, and given her humanitarian efforts, it’s no surprise why she championed this film for years. From her excitable cheers, as she plummets off a cliff into the water below to her grunts and aches while bandaging the vessel, Woodley brings a rawness to the role that makes the story intensely absorbing. Sam Claflin is natural and charming.
This Saturday night, if you haven’t already, take the time to see this film with the lights low, the sound high, and a heavy bowl of popcorn. If anything, it gives me hope for the mid-range movie.