Thursday, March 18, 2010

'Dead Birds' is scary, but not scary enough

Dead Birds (2004)
Starring: Henry Thomas, Nicki Aycox, Isaiah Washington, Patrick Fugit, Mark Boone, Jr., Michael Shannon, Muse Watson and Harris Mann
Director: Alex Turner
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A band of outlaws who have violently robbed a bank during the American Civil War, hide out in the manor of a deserted plantation to rest before making their way to Mexico. They soon learn that while human beings may not live there, other creatures do.

"Dead Birds" blends standard elements of haunted house tales and monster movies, puts them in a Civil War setting, and presents them in an atmospheric film that unfolds with a steady pace that is punctuated by horrorfic, shocking moments.

While there are a few clunky moments--the way the curse upon the plantation is revealed and the way a couple of the characters are written out both feel like not enough thought was put into how to properly fit them into the flow of the movie--the overall tone of the film grows steadily more nightmare-like: it's a film that starts darkly and things only get worse. The artful camerawork and excellent use of lighting and sound is also at a level that is all-too-rarely-seen in horror movies these days. The same is true of the acting... there isn't a single actor who appears in the movie who doesn't come across as completely believable.

Unfortunately, the ending leaves a little bit to be desired. After a fantastic build-up, made all-the-better in restrospect because the final scenes of the movie have been very carefully foreshadowed from the time the outlaws first reached the edge of the cornfield surrounding the manor, inconsistencies in how the curse manifests itself in regards to a couple of the characters serves to muddy and undermine what should be the most shocking moment of the film. Those above-mentioned clunky moments rattle quite loudly as far as the "shock ending" goes.

"Dead Birds" is a well-acted and well-directed horror film. It is one of the best efforts in recent years, but it fails to fully realize its potential at the end. It's still worth a look if you enjoy horror movies.

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