Dead Birds (2005)
Directed by Alex Turner
Starring Henry Thomas, Nicki Lynn Aycox, Isaiah Washington, Michael Shannon, Patrick Fugit, Muse Watson
2004 pretty much sucked for the genre except for a few scattered shining spots. Here we are in February of 2005, and there hasn’t been a single good chill to be had in what seems like ages. Have we offended the horror gods? Horror’s taken a lot of twists and turns lately. There’s your PG-13 friendly semi-ghost stories complete with ridiculous twist endings and the now prerequisite phoned in performances from big name Hollywood talent. Then we have the CGI laden horror action extravaganzas that sacrifice true scares for handguns and Matrix style kung-fu scenes. Please can anyone out there save us?
As per usual another gem has surfaced from guess where? Hint: Not Hollywood. Indie filmmaking has always been at the heart of horror, and with Dead Birds I am reminded that said heart is still very much pumping the red stuff and spewing it from time to time to this gorehound's absolute delight!
Period pieces usually scare me. Not because of the intended chills of the films themselves, but because most filmmakers try and shove it down your throat that this is a period piece!!! Okay, we get it - there are candles burning everywhere instead of lights. Oh, and thanks for showing us those horses again for the eleventh time! In less capable hands period films can be mighty distracting. Luckily for us director Alex Turner is more than capable, and for his first feature film he turns in quite the spookfest!
The film opens with a lead flying, flesh ripping shootout! Heads and limbs go sailing while the red stuff paints the walls! I had to wipe a tear from my eye. Sam Peckinpah would have been proud! That’s how we’re introduced to our tale's protagonists - a band of outlaws with a taste for blood and gold. Needless to say, they got what they came for, and now they're seemingly home free and on their merry way to Mexico. The only problem is that they decide to hole up for the night in an abandoned plantation that offers much more than sanctuary from the coming storms.
Dead Birds has atmosphere thick enough to cut with a knife. Something is very wrong in this plantation, and director Turner wants us to experience every claustrophobic moment of it. Solid acting, at times brilliant camera work, and superb sound design all contribute to make this a truly frightening winner.
So maybe 2005 isn’t off to such a bad start after all. It’s a pity that quality films such as this go straight to video while other 3rd rate hack jobs (*cough* Alone in the Dark *cough*) get to enjoy theatrical runs. It’s a crazy friggin’ world we live in, but one I have faith in due to the talents of people who remember that you don’t need a giant sized budget and mile-a-minute wink-wink jokes to make a good horror film.
4 out of 5