Monday, April 22, 2013

Dead Birds (2004): Jay's Movie of the Week #16

Provokes a visceral reaction in me...
When I first saw the box for Dead Birds at the video store, probably in 2005, I decided it wasn't for me. There was something about the image of the movies' monster, a child with big, hollowed-out eyes, an impossibly long jaw with gaping dark maw and needle-jagged teeth that made me think "nope, that's a bit beyond." Black eyes, chalky skin, exaggerated features all provoke a response in me different from big, giant slimy monsters. It looks sickly, wrong. The reaction is more visceral. Flashes of faces deforming always get a reaction from me, though I'm getting better at ratcheting it down to a slight wince from the full-bodied shudder I'm more inclined towards. I recently came across a copy I could borrow and, having replaced every cell in my body since 2005, thought I'd finally give it a try.

I won't spoil much of it. A Reconstruction-Era story told with a leisurely pace about a ragged group of bank robbers getting their just deserts in a derelict farmhouse that must be property of the Lovecraft family. There is no honor among thieves, and their greed would drive them to hunt one another but for the insidious influence (and sad legacy) of the house beating them to the punch. Our protagonists are all drawn in shades of gray, while our monsters are clear cut in both black and white. They're a motley crew, vivid and memorable, and strikingly evoke both more sympathy and revulsion than our leads.

Dead Birds got some jumps that stand up. They are effective in the way a good jump is, earned through a slow build of tension. Even as the look of the monster has been aped repeatedly over the years (by Grave Encounters, a distended jaw just seemed like a calcium problem), it was fresh then and holds up now. The cast includes Henry Thomas, Patrick Fugit, Nicki Aycox, and "he-who-became-persona-non-grata-after-opening-his-big-yap-when-on-Gray's-Anatomy," and everyone here does good work. The sets (including a small town street evidently inherited from Big Fish) look great and the effects please the eye. All in all, the return on the dollar invested here is high indeed. Writer Simon Barrett also wrote You're Next and has segments in The ABCs of Death and the V/H/S films. Director Alex Turner has, to date, only released one other film (Red Sands), and that's a shame. After one film I'm intrigued, craving more works from both.

A simple but high recommend for this one.

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