Cynthia Erivo's performance is the main draw in Drift, a refugee story that otherwise holds you at a distance

Film Review by Eilidh Akilade | 25 Mar 2024
  • Drift
Film title: Drift
Director: Anthony Chen
Starring: Cynthia Erivo, Alia Shawkat
Release date: 29 Mar
Certificate: 15

In Drift, Jacqueline (Cynthia Erivo), a Liberian refugee attempting to survive on a Greek island, is always walking: across the sand, the pavements, amid drying shrubbery, on tiles of restaurants that turn her away. She’s displaced and it’s a relentlessly ongoing state until she meets American tour guide Callie (Alia Shawkat).

Anthony Chen’s film is a necessary watch that challenges perceptions of refugee experiences, albeit with limited colour. Fragmented flashbacks offer slim insights into Jacqueline’s history. We do know she's scared though, and Chen lets this fear bruise across each scene, sore and barely touched. But we're held at a distance. Chen never quite indulges in the beauty of the landscape – the blue upon shades of blue, with only concrete, sand, and rare greenery amid stretches of white offering respite. There is, after all, only so scenic a landscape (and its carefree tourists) can be amid one’s own survival, although this is a tension only somewhat noted.

It’s Erivo who pulls us in. Her performance is weighty with empathy, sensitive to the nuances of Jacqueline’s pain, so much of it unspoken, only understood. Shawkat, meanwhile, plays Callie with a curious warmth, allowing her to both soothe and disrupt. However, their friendship is never quite fully realised, an on-screen intimacy without connection. There’s a restraint to the characters themselves – Callie’s bravado, Jacqueline’s misdirection – as well as their scripted portrayal.

Slow, wading, Drift acutely notes how painfully monotonous trauma can be. But something is left undrawn. Drift guards itself – perhaps understandably and intentionally so.

Released 29 Mar by MetFilm; certificate 15