There’s some confusion about The Driver. Starting with which film we’re actually talking about. Not Drive, the 2011 film by Nicolas Winding Refn in which Ryan Gosling plays a driver. Not 1978’s The Driver, by Walter Hill and starring Ryan O’Neal (and where Drive got a lot of its plot and cool style). Not another film from 2019 called The Driver (aka Acceleration), starring Natalie Burn and Dolph Lundgren. None of those, nor a slew of other films and TV series all called The Driver.
No, this is The Driver starring Mark Dacascos and directed by Wych Kaosayananda. There leads to more confusion, since this The Driver is meant to be a sequel to a film called either Two of Us or Dead Earth or Paradise Z, except it was shot before that film, or after it, according to your source, and is meant to be not the second but the third in the series, again according to your source, though having watched it, it feels like a number two to me. No joke intended.
The seven people who saw the earlier film will tell you it’s a zombies-in-paradise affair, starring Milena Gorum and Alice Tantayanon as two attractive young women at a holiday resort who swap out of bikinis and into combat gear to fight the undead.
The Driver is still set in Thailand but no longer at the empty resort. Instead the story picks up at a fortress where humans hold out against the zombie horde, food, water and fuel in plentiful supply, but goodwill clearly running out for The Driver (Mark Dacascos) and his family (played by Dacascos’s own wife and daughter, Julie Condra and Noelani Dacascos), on account of The Driver (I never caught his actual name) being a bit of a stickler for the rules. If you’re a thief he’ll take you out and shoot you, that sort of stickler.
Things are set in motion when the fortress is attacked by bandits, who let the zombies in, and The Driver and his clan decide to get out of Dodge sharpish and hit the road, destination “the Haven”, a possibly illusory safe zone “up north”.
As moody lighting gives way to the sunshine of the open road, grunge and scowls are swapped out for bonding between dad and daughter, though daughter Bree doesn’t know that dad’s been bitten by a zombie and it’s only a matter of time before he turns.
Again, as in the earlier film, Kaosayananda is using the zombie genre as an entry point into something else. The odd moment featuring a shuffling creature zombie to one side, this is largely a coming-of-ager slash road movie and relies for its dynamic on Bree’s ignorance of dad’s condition and dad’s determination to make 13-year-old Bree fully self-sufficient – how to use a gun, how to drive a car – in the few hours he has left with her. A five-year schedule boiled down to an essence.
These scenes, between the on- and off-screen father and daughter work very well, and Dacascos’s impassive tough-guy action heroics are temporarily parked, allowing a warmer, fuzzier character to emerge. Noelani Dacascos, for her part, doesn’t let the family down, and is as vulnerable and touching as you’d expect a kid cusping teenagerdom to be.
Yes, but what about the zombies? Yes, yes, yes. This is not a film with much of a budget and there are a lot of scenes in which dad and daughter just sit in the car together, but tough-guy action heroes need at some point to do their thing and as we move into the final third a lot of zombies arrive and a lot of zombies die.
Also, in a “here come the cavalry” moment, Sylvia (Gorum) and Rose (Tantayanon) from the previous film also arrive, in artfully torn combat gear, at which point Bree becomes something of a bridge into what feels like it’s going to be the next instalment of this franchise, featuring her and the two older females.
Will part three (or is it two?) ever get made? It’s been a while and Kaosayananda seems to have moved on to other projects. A pity, because while neither The Driver nor the previous film were the best thing since Hitchcock, Kaosayananda is trialling interesting ideas, mixing up moods, pacing and genres. There is something going on here, in other words, beyond the lush tropical green of beautiful Thailand.
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© Steve Morrissey 2022