Leisurely paced, though not packed with a heck of a lot of story, plot, or characterization, Canadian director William D. MacGillivray’s tale of young love, Hard Drive, doesn’t really add much to a genre that has already seen plenty of films where a young man tries to break a damaged young woman out of her shell in hopes of getting her to see that the world isn’t a cold and terrible place. It takes forever to get going, it looks exceptional, the score from jazz legend Jerry Granelli is the most memorable thing about it, and if you’ve ever seen one of these movies before you’ll feel absolutely nothing watching it.
Ditch (Douglas Smith) works at the local dump bringing batches of recycling down every day (it’s also “where he does his best thinking”). He lives with his single mother (Megan Follows) who’s trying to rent out their spare room upstairs. One night after she drives him home because he had too much to drink, Ditch becomes smitten with Debs (Laura Wiggins), a mysterious young woman who railroads Ditch into renting her the room for two months by paying cash. She has no possessions of her own except for her laptop and she’s keeping a dark secret. Ditch’s mom doesn’t trust her and tries to get Debs to leave, but their love only grows stronger until they decide to hit the road and start a life on their own.
To give you an idea of just how long it take to get MacGillivray (Stations, Life Class) to get around to his point, that final plot point comes almost hour into the film and once it arrives there’s only thirty minutes left to wrap everything up. There’s a difference between building up characters slowly over time and simply spinning wheels, and Hard Drive firmly fits into that second category. It would be better if there was a sense that we were learning anything interesting about these characters, but Ditch is dull as dishwater and Debs is such a cipher that she’s only designed to forward a big reveal at the end that will explain why she has been so understandably volatile this whole time. It’s not going anywhere, but it doesn’t give viewers any reason to want to stick around.
And despite not having much plot, there are still plenty of things that could be excised. There’s a do-nothing and go-nowehere subplot at the beginning that casts composer Granelli as a drum teacher and former tenant of Ditch’s house. There’s a ludicrously idiotic bit involving burning a tattoo off with a hot iron that’s both uncomfortable and cheesy at the same time. MacGillivray wants to imbue his film with “big” moments, but he forgot to make the little details of the core relationship resonate enough to tie them all together.
Smith does what he can with a half-baked leading role. For what it’s worth, at least he gives Ditch a sense of world weary contemplation that befits the material better than it probably deserves. Wiggins acclimates herself to someone keeping a secret nicely, but she’s kind of gratingly unbelievable when her character has to get testy and angry, going a bit too far over the top at times. The real grounding force here is Follows who plays a caring and confused mother without turning her character into a villain. A scene where she tries to talk to her son about her past over coffee is easily the best scene in the film.
For such a slow burning tale of young love, MacGillivray’s adaptation of Hal Niedzviecki’s novel Ditch curiously lacks spark. These kinds of films are supposed to bring back feelings of what it’s like to feel like a relationship has infinite possibilities. Hard Drive makes first love feel like a chore. And even though the film doesn’t have bitterness towards first love, maybe something bitter could have cut through the bland sweetness of this material well. The only thing bitter is the film’s feelings towards modern technology with the title referring to the evil harbourer of dirty secrets and the one thing that will bring their eventual trip to a screeching halt. And when it’s revealed and you realize you never had to go on this journey at all with these people, it’s a massive cheat.