A Love Story, Unplugged

Hard Drive
(Canada, 82 min.)
Written and directed by William D. MacGillivray
Starring: Douglas Smith, Megan Follows, Laura Slade Wiggins, Jerry Granelli
Laura Slade Wiggins and Douglas Smith as Debs and Ditch in Hard Drive.
  Photo credit Dan Callis
William D. MacGillivray goes searching for analogue love in a digital world with Hard Drive. Hard Drive, which marks the director’s return to narrative film since 1990’s Understanding Bliss, might not be as formally engaging his some of his previous films are, but it’s nevertheless an intriguing film from a thematic perspective. The digitally titled and digitally shot Hard Drive takes an unconventional approach to young love in this technologically saturated age. Ditch (Stage Fright’s Douglas Smith) doesn’t seem to have Facebook, a cell phone, or even an iPod. He doesn’t Instagram his food when he goes for Chinese with his mom, played by Megan Follows (aka Anne of Green Gables), and he listens to music on, wait for it, the old-fangled combination of a Walkman and a cassette tape. Downtown hipsters be damned, Ditch is the real deal!

Well, Ditch is sort of the real deal, anyways, as Hard Drive shows him drift through a typical slacker existence in his little podunk town. He masturbates in the shower and works at the dump. He lives with his overprotective mom, who might be his best friend until a petite young runaway named Debs (Laura Slade Wiggins) sneaks into town and sublets the room upstairs.

A romance blossoms, but it’s not one mediated by texts and tweets. Ditch and Debs get to know each other the old-fashioned way, i.e. through conversations, make out sessions, hot irons, and shared headphones. Bright little screens are scare as the express themselves with nary a selfie. A computer, however, plays a pivotal role in the arc of Ditch and Debs’ relationship, although the hard drive of Debs’ laptop hosts something evil.

If fans familiar with MacGillivray’s work remember technology as a symbol of freedom, expression, and/or connection back when Life Classes appeared in the 1980s, then technology seems to have become a tool for alienation for this veteran filmmaker. There’s a notable divide between Hard Drive and MacGillivray’s films of the analogue days. It might be nostalgia or it might be ambivalence, but Hard Drive unplugs and goes offline as Ditch and Debs hit the road old school and leave Ditch’s mom crying in front of her laptop.

Hard Drive is appropriately lo-fi as MacGillivray takes a minimalist approach to this coming-of-age road movie. A unique score lights Hard Drive with pizazz as composer Jerry Granelli (who also appears as the family’s tenant Mr. Knudston) does away with synth, strings, and other forms of emotional manipulation that usually drive a film. Hard Drive has a jazzy beat as much of the music features little more than a drum set and sometimes an electric guitar. MacGillivray frequently bridges the music with the action to keep it mostly diegetic, since John and Knudston share a passion for the drums and keep the beats together to survive the banality of Nova Scotia.

The performances are as restrained as MacGillivray’s direction is. Follows is especially good as Ditch’s mother and she gives an effortlessly natural performance that hits the film’s few genuine emotional notes while Smith gives a sullenly subdued performance as Ditch. Hard Drive rides his angst to the very end. Wiggins, alternatively, sits less comfortably with the performance-driven direction of Hard Drive. It doesn’t help, either, that the poor audio of the film renders much of her dialogue inaudible. The minimalism of Hard Drive usually works to the film’s advantage, but it sometimes proves a distraction.

The film might ultimately be a bit too bare bones for its own good, yet patient viewers will doubtlessly appreciate Hard Drive’s ability to create a sense of timelessness simply creating a love story unplugged. On the other hand, a contemporary love story so out of touch with contemporary communication feels disconnected, for one might even look to the opposite end of the analogue-to-digital spectrum and find more truth (or cause for speculation) in, say, the Wi-Fi romance between Theodore and Samantha in Spike Jonze’s Her. Audiences could debate the authenticity of a contemporary relationship that doesn’t contain some form of mediation, but Hard Drive is so consciously cleansed of impersonal gizmos that one must see the absence of technology—both in the story and in the form itself—as part of the point.

Rating: ★★½ (out of ★★★★★)

Hard Drive screened in Ottawa at the Digi60 SIFT on July 25.
It opens in Toronto at The Royal on August 15.

What did you think of Hard Drive?