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Overall Rating
3.44

Awesome: 14.52%
Worth A Look43.55%
Average: 27.42%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 14.52%

5 reviews, 32 user ratings


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Dead Birds
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by Scott Weinberg

"Evil bastards encounter angry spirits in a haunted house. You do the math."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2004 TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL: Nothing gets my heart pumping like the "Midnight Movies" selections at the film festivals I attend. Sundance, SXSW, Philadelphia and Toronto all offer a half-dozen late-night genre efforts, and those are the movies I inevitably gravitiate towards when festival time rolls around. Alex Turner's "Dead Birds" was a title I scrawled a big red circle around, meaning it was a flick I wouldn't have missed for all the tea in Toronto. As the lights went down, I was filled with cautious optimism; when they went back up, I was left with casual disappointment.

There's nothing I love more than 'discovering' a slick new horror movie a few months early and sharing my enthusiasm with all you adorably gore-addicted horror hounds. The premise for Dead Birds - a group of confederate soldiers rob a bank before holing up in a seriously haunted old plantation - had me counting the hours up to the screening. I actively wanted to dig this movie.

Alas, there's simply not enough meat on these bird-like bones to warrant much excitement from the horror faithful, although Mr. Turner clearly has a talent for the genre. One expects bigger and better things from this guy in the future. If Dead Birds reeks of anything, it's untapped potential, and while Turner's debut effort doesn't leave all that much of a lasting impression, there's enough here to keep the faithful psyched for the guy's next efforts.

Dead Birds opens promisingly enough, as a cadre of seriously slimy confederate soldiers stage a brutal and blood-soaked robbery. They quickly hightail it over to a grim-looking plantation mansion, and it's there that they discover some seriously infuriated undead. That's pretty much it.

Since we're presented with only six (rather one-note) characters, we're reliant on merely a half-dozen kills to keep the movie flying along. Suffice to say they don't exactly do the trick. Aside from the bank-robbery intro, the first 60-some minutes of the film consist of characters wandering through dark rooms while brandishing lanterns. Occasionally something loud will hit the ground, thereby earning a cheap jolt from the audience.

Once the nocturnal wanderings start to peter out, we're offered a few puzzle pieces as to why this plantation is so darn haunted. It has to do with lunatic dads and terrorized kids, disease-stricken moms and tortured slaves. The culmination of these clues feels like something torn from an old Twilight Zone episode, and the late-stage revelations prove to be not all that fascinating after such an airy and arduous set-up.

But don't mistake my disappointment as a straight dismissal. As a lifelong loon for all things horror-centric, I was easily able to locate a handful of components that tickled my terror bone. Impressively enough, Turner was able to wrangle himself some fine actors for his little ghost story, including Henry Thomas, Patrick Fugit and Isaiah Washington. Actors with actual talent help to elevate familiar material, and such is certainly the case here. Thomas bites into the role of hateful bastard with a noticable tenacity, while Fugit and Washington anchor the flick through its intermittent spots of slowness. The standout of the cast is Michael Shannon, who clearly enjoys amping up the evil - so we're left to enjoy his demise a whole lot more.

Turner's directorial style captures the sweaty doom and late-night claustrophobia that comes part and parcel with a simple ghost story, but he also relies too heavily on fake scares and ponderously presented flashback revelations. Further, if you have a movie with only six characters, it's perhaps not a good idea to have a few of them simply disappear from the plot for 20 minutes at a tme. "Is that one guy dead?" and "Wait, what happened to the fat guy?" are not questions one needs careening through their heads while trying to enjoy a simple horror movie.

There's nothing about Dead Birds that could accurately be described as terrible or insipid, but the end result is a concept we've seen a hundred times before, and 65 of those other movies are markedly more entertaining than this one. The old-west setting seems to exist for no reason other than to let the actors talk with a twang and wear funny hats, so one wonders why Turner and company even bothered using this time frame. And once the movie gets down to the actual goopy mayhem that the horror hounds know and love, you've already withstood about an hour of material that's quite simply not all that interesting.

"Dead Birds" is directed with a lot more flair than it's written with, and Alex Turner could very well be an up-and-coming horror helmer to keep both eyes upon. And perhaps I was just a little too pre-psyched up for what essentially amounts to yet another predictably gothic ghost story, but the final product left me a little unenthused. Horror fans should absolutely wait around for "Dead Birds" and decide for themselves, because it's certainly not a terrible little movie. I expect the flick to find a small-but-vocal cult fanbase once "Dead Birds" hits the DVD shelves, but (unfortunately for me) I won't be among their ranks. Not too shabby for a debut effort, but not nearly unique or exciting enough to warrant my enthusiastic endorsement.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=10643&reviewer=128
originally posted: 09/19/04 03:57:42
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 San Francisco Independent Film Festival. For more in the 2005 San Francisco Independent Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Independent Film Festival of Boston. For more in the 2005 Independent Film Festival of Boston series, click here.

User Comments

1/12/11 moose rapper Ho-hum 3 stars
10/31/10 The Dude Who Hated This Movie...Alot Ok, so this movie sucked cocks. Not scary...and you couldnt see Nicky Aycocks tits...fuck 1 stars
9/17/09 dr.evil The fat dude getting pulled into the well was nothing new but merely a wasted kill. 4 stars
6/25/09 tedders Scary, but the monsters are never really that close to the characters. Title makes no sense 3 stars
6/17/09 Matty watching it now. I google searched "why dead birds sucks" 1 stars
12/23/08 Apollo We loved it. It was truly creepy. Better than most current junk. 4 stars
9/15/08 Jeff M. I don't get why this movie gets heat. I loved it, suspenseful and a fresh setting. 4 stars
5/15/08 Kassii Immense. This is one of my favorite films of all time. The i guess you have to be a certai 5 stars
4/24/07 Shell-O Cherry OMG I love it because Sam(Patrick Fugit) is so hot 5 stars
12/04/06 steven newman Caught this up on Sky - (Five US) - not a bad way to waste a couple of hours 3 stars
6/05/06 megan not really scary 1 stars
1/21/06 Jerome Bosch Creepy, but you must be older than 14 to acknowledge that… 4 stars
11/01/05 Jim O'Connor Stephen Studach's Civil War Horror Novel Wolf Pack is INFINITELY BETTER! 3 stars
10/28/05 Tommy Boi This film was crap. Y was it called deadbirds anyway? it left me yawning and laughing 1 stars
10/23/05 xmovie seen it all before 1 stars
10/14/05 Red Carrot Very interesting hybrid horror/western. Check it out. 4 stars
10/08/05 ben hammond IT WAS FUCKING SHIT KILL THE MAKERS OF IT 1 stars
8/30/05 hait hait THIS MOVIE SUCKS BALLS!!! I WASTED 1.5 HOURS OF MY LIFE WATCHING THAT CORN BOAR BULLSHIT 1 stars
8/25/05 steve wiegand super sleazy 5 stars
8/05/05 Mark Louis Baumgart Good not-t--gorey, creepy and moody fun. Nice crime/horror/historical crossover. Great sets 4 stars
7/06/05 fanny me gusto mucho y amo a patrick fugit 4 stars
7/06/05 Karen me encanta y patrick se ve guapisimo lo amo 5 stars
5/10/05 jake cicso more frightening then 'The Ring' 4 stars
5/06/05 Teri Karma The best suspense since 28 Days Later! A must see! 5 stars
5/02/05 Dorothy Malm JUST AWFUL 1 stars
4/17/05 Mark Legron boring as all get out--horrible effects--not scary 1 stars
4/16/05 craig varney will stand your hair up 5 stars
3/08/05 Worx I thought it wuz okay 3 stars
12/23/04 Eric Cool movie 4 stars
9/25/04 Lisa Reed really spooky and atmospheric 5 stars
9/23/04 Erik Partlow Classy little scarefest - henry thomas was really good. 5 stars
9/15/04 big fish rich in suspense and dripping in fear 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  15-Mar-2005 (R)
  DVD: 15-Mar-2005

UK
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