Adrift (2018); When cinema-goers were looking in the other direction, a new genre seems to have grown up: the extreme survival movie. In fact… you could almost compare this to The Revenant (Leonardo DiCaprio), except this being a maritime-survival version, of same. The great challenge for the film-makers is to keep us interested in one person – often muttering unconvincingly to themselves – as they seek to extricate themselves from nature’s nightmares. At least Leonardo DiCaprio got to beat up a bear in The Revenant. Like Robert Redford in All is Lost, Shailene Woodley has here little but the sea and a crumbling vessel as antagonists. We begin with Tami (Woodley) coming to in the wrecked remains of her sailing boat somewhere a long way from land. There is initially no sign of her boyfriend Richard (Sam Claflin). She is not the sort to give up and welcome death’s embrace.
Having located the badly injured Richard, she sets to her sextant and plots a course for distant Hawaii. Only bits of the mast and sail remain. Sticking close to the real-life Tami Oldham-Ashcraft’s account of her survival – I’m afraid the phrase “true story” probably offers a spoiler in itself – the film,Adrift neglects to include any sharks, pirates or tsunamis.
There is one grimly inevitable reconstruction of The Raft of the Medusa, but the main strand is mostly concerned with worrying, fishing and gazing at the horizon. Disaster-filming specialist Baltasar Kormákur, director of Everest, breaks up this thread with flashbacks to the couple’s cute meet on Tahiti. A few minutes of their bland lovey-dovey speak – she’s a hippie; he’s a posh English bloke – and you’ll be yearning for return to the drifting boat and the looming skies.
A versatile actress with a good line in crumpled despair, Woodley does just enough to persuade us she’d be better off above water. What really sustains interest, however, is the promise of an eventual sight of land. Extreme survival movies have to be very bad indeed if they fail to trigger emotion when the first seagull lands or the first twig bumps against the bow. For all the film’s ordinariness, the end remains a properly fist-punchy moment.
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Adrift is a fine film in the new genre of wrecked-at-sea films of the last ten years; we’ve seen also the harrowing real-life story of the six fishermen off Coastal Massachusetts, The Perfect Storm, made into a fine film with George Clooney. both this, and Adrift, share the same thing: 1980s/1990s life at sea, when any communications with shore were precarious; and iPhones were yet to be even thought of. To which I say, bring on more of these fine film-recreations. it isn’t just about nostalgia, though there’s nothing wrong with that; it’s about real peril, being cut-off, and genuinely ‘not knowing’, from one hour to the next, how things will turn out.