Adrift review: navigates the same path as too many survival films before it

In Adrift, an incredible true story of survival at sea is made ordinary by lackluster direction. Directed by Baltasar Kormákur, Adrift follows Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley) and her boyfriend Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin) as they become stranded in a storm somewhere in the 6500 km stretch of Pacific Ocean between Tahiti and San Diego. Intercut with glib flashbacks to the couple’s courtship, Tami and a gravely injured Richard attempt to sail toward Hawaii in the remnants of their battered boat.

Shailene Woodley commits to her role as Tami, a bohemian young woman off to see the world, working odd jobs to make enough money to get her to the next stop. Complete with a puka shell necklace and sunkissed blonde highlights, she’s the embodiment of wanderlust; the girl who goes traveling on her gap year and never comes back. Watching a free spirit like Tami find herself in such dire circumstances is a convincing concept, an intrigue validated by Woodley’s fine depiction of harrowing exhaustion. Sam Claflin, on the other hand, gives a rather one-note performance, his sentimentality rarely convincing.

Sure, there are some decent moments. Both Tami and Richard are competent in the water; she’s a surfer, he’s a sailor; and the film serves as a reminder of the way disaster renders incompetent even the most experienced seafarer. On another occasion, days into the storm’s aftermath, Tami is delighted to find a tube of moisturiser and slathers it across Richard’s face, then her own; a small attempt at feeling human, despite the wreckage.

However, these moments don’t sustain the rest of the film. Expositional dialogue, a predictable second act twist, and an over-reliance on score for emotional resonance all contribute to the film’s chaotic tone. The true story behind the film proves a hindrance as fact is used as a crutch in place of beauty or depth. Contrary to Tami’s ever-present desire to travel somewhere new, Adrift is lacking in its exploration, and ultimately navigates the same path as too many survival films before it.