Tuesday, October 10, 2006

It Came from Netflix! Dead Birds (2004)

During the Civil War, some Confederate soldiers bring a gold shipment to a town bank for safekeeping. However, a gang of outlaws shows up and kills everyone in sight and absconds with the gold. The group includes leader William (Henry Thomas, for those who still follow his career), his younger brother Sam, former slave (I guess) Todd, William’s squeeze Annabelle, and the scruffier and less trustworthy Clyde and Joseph.

They flee to an abandoned plantation house William learned of whilst recuperating from a battle injury (in, it must be said, an all too realistically grungy medical tent). The man who gave him the information later died, and William hooked with the man’s (maybe) fiancée Annabelle, who had been nursing the two. The plan is to stay in the house overnight and then flee to Mexico the next day.

However, the house and surrounding farm is a Bad Place, as was indicated when the group was apparently attacked by something that resembled a skinned albino mystery animal. There are other omens, including a dead bird (which was the only such one I noticed, anyway, despite the title). Meanwhile, Clyde and Joseph are planning a double cross.

Needless to say, the rest of the movie involves the characters getting picked off one by on by the ghosts / demons / whatevers. There’s also a backstory explaining why the place is haunted, although frankly it didn’t make a lot of sense to me. Also, I think there turns out to be a revenge plot in there somewhere, if I was following things.

Obviously one problem is that a gang of murderous bank robbers is not the most sympathetic of protagonists. They try to separate the ‘good’ bad guys (loyal, loving among themselves, progressive on racial issues, guilt ridden from killing a kid amidst their general bloody slaughter) from the ‘bad’ one (bigoted, treacherous), but really, I couldn’t get that aroused concerning their fates. There’s also a whole Treasure of Sierra Madre thing that I didn’t really felt went anywhere.

Despite the overall narrative confusion and shaky characterization, however, the fact remains that the film is pretty creepy. That went a long way for me, although ‘creepy’ is to some another word for boring, since by its nature it includes a lot of build-up. I also admired the fact that the pace of the film is fairly stately, as befits something set in the past. The world just didn’t move that fast a hundred (or even fifty) years ago, which is why films like Pearl Harbor and Fly Boys give me gas. Here the time period is evoked pretty effectively, and that goes a long way.

In the end, this proved a better than average rental. Unlike a lot of the DTV stuff that floods the horror shelves these days, Dead Birds is actually a real movie, with actual acting and good dialogue and decent direction and all that sort of thing. I could probably have done with a little less CGI, and the ghostly kids who suddenly manifest monster faces is not exactly fresh by this point, but all it all it’s solid stuff. It might have worked better at an hour’s length, but considering the sheer crap out there, you could certainly do a lot worse. And I should note that while I considered the film basically a ‘three star’ picture, others revere it a lot more.

The director, Alex Turner (who sadly has not made another film in the two years since this one) provides a commentary, and there’s a cast commentary too. I didn’t have time or, frankly, the interest to really give them a listen, but it’s nice to have them for people who like the film more than I did.


At 10:53 AM, Blogger Mike P said...

I've noticed that your "It Came From Netflix!" posts resemble the "Video Cheese" segments from the main "Jabootu" site quite a bit. I'm not really going anywhere with that, I just wanted to bring it up.

At 11:18 AM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

Yeah, they are shorter, but it is similar. The main difference (aside from Horror Month) is that the blog would be even more likely to feature more mainstream genres and films.

I haven't figured out how to balance the blog and Jabootu site when I restart the latter in January, but I may post two Jabootu pieces a month there and try to do (more or less) daily blogging here.

We'll see.

At 11:28 AM, Blogger David Lee said...

I saw Dead Birds at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival last weekend. Even though I knew when most of the scares were coming I still ended up jumping every time.

The director answered questions from the audience after the show. He probably had a harsher opinion of the movie than we did. He said he loved it but could see all its flaws.

At 11:45 AM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

Yeah, I'm not sure my review really communicated my feelings on the film, which I guess are "Pretty good, actually, if not extremely good."

It is spooky, though, if nothing else, and for that alone is worth a look.

At 1:43 PM, Blogger BeckoningChasm said...

I reviewed this one myself, and I agree: the atmosphere is thick as molasses and it's damn creepy, but I didn't give any portion of a rat about the "heroes." Why was this a group of bank robbers, and not random settlers or something? I suspect that when all fates were dealt out, no one would be too sad.

Still, the atmophere is excellent.


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