Sunday, December 27, 2015

Sunday Movie Theater: Dead Birds (2004)

Slow and scary

The December edition of "Sunday Movie Theater" is here, just two days after Christmas. ^^ Instead of having a joyous, heartwarming movie that is suitable for the entire family to watch and enjoy during this holiday season, I picked one from the horror genre to be different, one with quite a few "nice", memorable jump scares that can provide fuel for your nightmares on cold, dark nights. ^^

You're welcome. XD

Movie poster is from Film-Cine.

Trailer of the movie.
Video clip is from Youtube. Follow this link to the website if you can't see anything.

"Dead Birds", a 2004 movie directed by Alex Turner. Technical movie details can be seen on IMDB, while the entire story is up on the movie's Wikipedia page.

The story of "Dead Birds" is basically about the horror faced by a bunch of unfortunate folks in a mysterious, abandoned farmhouse - in short, a haunted house story - as simple as that. ^^

The point here is, when the storyline is simplified to its core, one would immediately link it to other movies with similar set up and get a basic idea of what the movie is all about. The horror genre in particular, seems to be facing the "issue" of predictability more prevalently than other types of movies. New ideas that can give the audience a fright (to enjoy XD) when they are first used instantly become cliché and no longer work the second time because they are already predictable, and that can really take away the fun when you are watching a horror movie. ^^;

It's harder and harder to scare people with movies nowadays I suppose. ^^;

Back to the movie in this posting, even though "Dead Birds" doesn't offer radically new ideas that set itself on a completely different path in the haunted-house "sub-genre" (XD), the story is interesting and does contain genuinely scary elements. For a start, the story is set during the American Civil War era, a time period that is uncommon for horror movies. The setting is also helpful in establishing the credibility of the story - the desolate nature of the haunted farmhouse, superstition, low-tech and lack of communication are "normal" and believable in that old era, but they serve as crucial elements that support and even enhance the horror factor of the overall movie.

Speaking of which, the storyline of "Dead Birds" is quite similar to that of "Outpost" (2008) reviewed in February 2013. Abandoned farmhouse versus abandoned Nazi World War II bunker; supernatural elements conjured from demonic rituals versus spirits of Nazi soldiers raised from crazy science experiment, and both are very much invincible. However, the setting of "Dead Birds" has a slight advantage over the latter in terms of element of surprise as well as novelty of the story thanks to the rather contained backstory of the farmhouse. As compared to Nazi experimentation that went "supernaturally" wrong in "Outpost" (2008), nobody really knows what's wrong with the farmhouse or its former residents or even what the group of bank robbers are up against during their stay. Also, for the mercenary group in "Outpost" (2008), the last chapter of the movie is about the remaining members trying to combat and survive the Nazi spirits once they find out the source of the mystery, but for the "victims" in this movie, they never really understand what hit them, and the audience doesn't either. It's that prevailing sense of not knowing what's exactly attacking the group and what's going to happen next that so effective in providing the scares. ^^

Another similar point between the two movies are the characters - none of them are likeable. ^^; I'm more prepared to see when and how each and every one of them die instead of hoping for the best. XD That "simplicity" in character design is probably not intended by the storywriter, but it works more me. ^^ It's way better to focus on getting scared instead of trying to understand the characters I hope would all die. XD

Interestingly, one of the robbers, Clyde (played by Michael Shannon) bears an uncanny resemblance to Leonardo DiCaprio in "Django Unchained" which came out some eight years after this movie. ^^

Image of Leonardo DiCaprio on the right is from Cinema Ad Hoc.

Yup, Michael "General Zod" Shannon is in this movie. ^^

The movie does provide the information for one to make a good guess on the backstory, with exposition used in a few scenes to tell the backstory if I remember correctly - basically having the characters spill out in words what is going on. ^^; The blatant giveaway of information is unnecessary in my opinion, since half of the fun of watching horror movies is to guess the story anyway. ^^ Still, even with all the exposition, the actual supernatural force that is killing the entire band is never revealed or explained. For that matter, the characters never get the chance to deal with it and are all doomed to die. The unknown factor of the mystery is intact till the very end, so the story never loses its potential for elements of surprise.

Then again, with the slow the revealing of said backstory, coupled with the slow effort by the characters themselves to find out more about the house, get ready for a really slow pacing of the entire story for a good half of the movie. ^^; Besides that, there's almost no action at all in the whole movie. The gunfight at the bank at the beginning is pretty much the only action you will get, and it's not even related to the farmhouse. ^^; The inexplicable nature of the enemy faced by the characters makes it rather difficult to have any action sequence, which is understandable.

The slow pacing of the story does help to "enhance" the effectiveness of some of the jump scares in the movie, since those brief moments of fright work best when least expected after your mind has been deceived by the slow pace. ^^ Having said that, the creature design in the movie is really creepy. I was genuinely spooked the first time I watched the movie. ^^ As compared to some other horror movies that couldn't stop flashing their monsters or creatures with plenty of gore and blood to disgust rather than to frighten the audience, those brief, scary scenes in this movie seem more effective in supporting the overall story.

Overall, "Dead Birds" is an interesting and entertaining entry in the horror genre. ^^ The story is slow, but does offer moments that are actually spooky and not over the top. There's not much action to be seen, but that's been compensated by a good story. ^^ The mystery behind the haunted farmhouse is explained, but still offers room for imagination and interpretation by the audience. There's nothing amazingly special about the movie, but for its own contained story, it's a very good movie. ^^

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