Dune Drifter (FrightFest 2020) review – low budget action sci-fi that made me want more

By Alix Turner
Published: October 24, 2020 (Last updated: December 24, 2023)


Following a rookie starfighter pilot into battle and out again in a simple story that delivers plenty of action and excitement with its modest resources.

Several years ago, the horror film festival world fell for Colin, the micro-budget zombie film. Last year, Nightshooters had us jumping and laughing equally. This year, Marc Price brings us something different again, in a sci-fi film full of fighting – amongst the stars and on the ground – and survival: Dune Drifter.

Dune Drifter is a simple story in that the only background is in a couple of brief allusions: a war between “us and them” has clearly been going on for some time, and the cause or reason is irrelevant. The location is irrelevant too, except that it is a long, long way from home.

The film starts off introducing a group of starfighter pilots, engaging in banter, both nervous and lighthearted, as they head out to join the action. They’ve not had much experience yet, so fortunately they’re being brought in towards the end of what is expected to be a fairly easy battle. It turns out to be different when they arrive, apparently just in time to make up some numbers, as nothing has gone to plan. The battle is extremely exciting, full of action, explosions, many, many spaceships, and a surprise or two.

Just as we are getting to know and feel for these pilots, the film takes a turn and follows just one small ship as it crash lands on the nearby planet. The second half of the film follows Adler (Phoebe Sparrow), caring for her wounded mate, managing alien terrain, and doing her best to get what she needs to make it home with finite life support… and with an opponent who apparently has similar goals.

Adler, like the rest of the group she was part of, is a very believable character: pragmatic for the most part, though with flickers of pain when tough memories arise, and very human frustrations, such as stray hair in her helmet. Sparrow has been on our TV screen a few times and I trust this role will show the range she can handle.

Dune Drifter is ostensibly a low budget sci-fi action flick with space ships and blasters aplenty (though granted a significantly higher budget than, say, Colin). The special effects are excellent, especially sound effects and miniatures work, creating an almost Star Wars feel to the first half. When the low budget does occasionally show itself, it doesn’t matter in the slightest: it’s so easy to get into the fun spirit of the film.

The ever-resourceful Price has shown he can deliver an exciting space drama, but there are still one or two issues with Dune Drifter. The key thing missing here was originality, but I guess that’s only to be expected when the writer-director is drawing from a lifetime of sci-fi fandom. The other issue was the way the pace slowed down towards what felt to me like a too-open ending. I wanted to know what happened next, and I wanted to know the wider context of the war. Sure, these things indicate I was well engaged with what I had seen, but it felt a little tantalizing.

Dune Drifter has its world premiere at FrightFest, October 2020.

Movie Reviews, Movies