Based on a true story, Adrift is the latest lost at sea survival film, this one with a more romantic touch as we follow Tami (Shailene Woodley) and Richard (Sam Clafin), a couple who are adrift at sea after encountering a devastating hurricane. This is certainly a more respectable retelling than most survival stories, but it also fails to ever make for a tense or substantive experience.
Director Balthasar Kormakur deserves credit for making this film authentic as possible. Most of the scenes at sea are filmed in the ocean, allowing the audience to feel the vastness and isolation these characters face. At sea, Kormakur adds some effective stylistic flourishes, including placing the camera in the water to show the desperation of the characters to stay afloat. With Everest and now this film, he has proven himself adept at capturing the raw and intimate struggles that come with survival.
Similar to Everest though, Adrift drops the ball where it matters most. While Woodley and Clafin give respectable performances here (Woodley in particular relishes her role as the driving force of their survival), neither actor has much in terms of chemistry or development. After a few scenes meeting and having fun, the audience is suppose to believe they are widely in love and close to marriage, but it just feels rushed and inauthentic.
Story-wise, Adrift tries to surprise its audience by crafting a twist using flashfoward storytelling. While each of the film’s three writers are accomplished (David Branson Smith, Aaron and Jordan Kandell), their decision to reframe the narrative is baffling. The constant flash forwards and backwards prove detrimental to both of the film’s separate arcs of romance and survival, with many of the transitions feeling abrupt. It’s a particular disservice to the scenes at sea, in which the quality filmmaking is cut of all its tension and weight. The “payoff” to this decision is an incredibly predictable plot twist that audiences will likely pick-up on within the first ten minutes.
Adrift loses itself in a sea of cliches and unsuccessful risks, which is a shame considering the potential of retelling this incredible true story.