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Overall Rating

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 Mel Valentin

"Derivative plot + creepy atmospherics = almost worth a view."
3 stars

"Dead Birds," a low-budget, straight-to-video, period horror film, while benefiting from an intriguing cross-genre premise, a suitably (Southern) gothic atmosphere, solid, persuasive performances, and an evocative musical score, is ultimately betrayed by a weak, underdeveloped, cliché-ridden script and a fumbled build-up of tension or credible scares (with two or three exceptions) by first time director Alex Turner and his screenwriter, Simon Barrett (whose only other screewnwriting credit is for the ridiculously titled "Frankenfish"). The end result falls just above between standard, or rather sub-standard, straight-to-video fodder.

Set during the Civil War in Alabama, Dead Birds opens promisingly with a bloody daylight bank robbery by a gang of violence-prone Confederate Army deserters (plus a female companion and an ex-slave), led by William (Henry Thomas). The gang succeeds in acquiring a shipment of gold coins, but not before gratuitously shooting innocent bystanders and the Confederate soldiers protecting the gold. William’s gang includes his younger brother, Sam (Patrick Fugit, unrecognizable in a mat of unkempt hair and scraggly beard), Annabelle (Nicki Lynn Aycox), an ex-nurse, Todd (Isaiah Washington), an ex-salve turned partner in crime, and two interchangeable cronies, Clyde (Michael Shannon), and Joseph (Mark Boone Junior).

With a posse on their trail, the gang rides deep into the Alabama backwoods, in search of an abandoned plantation. Per agreement, the gang will rest for the night at the plantation, then head south in the morning, for Mexico, where the gold will be apportioned equally among the group. Just as quickly, the characters begin to follow a familiar pattern: distrust, suspicion, and greed infects the group (two characters discuss stealing the gold and splitting it between them). Dead Birds (incidentally, the film’s extremely tight budget seems to have allowed for only one decomposing bird, shown in graphic close-up) takes a turn for the supernatural as they approach the plantation: the group encounters and kills a wild, bipedal animal hiding in a withered cornfield, an obvious portent of (bad) things to come. The incident barely registers with the characters, of course, who shrug off the encounter and proceed on to the plantation (plot exigencies, apparently).

Before settling in for the night, the men decide to explore the house and the grounds. Todd finds an illustrated notebook created by the previous owner. Without noticeable effort, Todd identifies the purpose behind the scribblings, to raise the dead (Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy is an obvious reference point here). Various doors are either locked and can’t be opened (e.g., the basement) or open by themselves. Pale-faced ghosts begin to manifest themselves. These incidents and encounters point to a malevolent, malignant supernatural haunting the plantation. The group, however, remains unfazed by the supernatural events (they’re more concerned about safeguarding the gold than in protecting themselves until, of course, it’s far too late).

As in almost every haunted house story or film, the characters, for a variety of reasons (some logical, some obviously not) are separated from one another, setting up what could and should be imaginative deaths for the lesser characters (alas, they aren't). Viewers can guess with little effort the order in which the characters meet their untimely, grisly deaths (hint: the characters with the least screen time exit first). Unfortunately, Barrett’s shortcomings as a screenwriter extend to these underwritten "kill" scenes (one character simply disappears, all but forgotten, returning late in the film, with no one particularly motivated to find out where he is or what's happened to him). What jump scares exist in Dead Birds have been liberally borrowed from recent "J-horror films" or their American remakes (one scene, believe it or not, involves a well and two other scenes involve pale-faced, ghost-children).

Barrett’s derivative screenplay makes little effort at character development. Only William is given a backstory (a brief flashback to a battlefield hospital) and not surprisingly, William is also the only character given a scene where his trouble conscience is given expression (i.e., remorse at the death of an innocent child by one of William's stray bullets). Barrett also errs in the opposite direction in handling exposition: rather than leave some details of the supernatural events unclear (to up the creep or dread factor), Barrett opts for an almost laughable scene where the angry, if talkative, ghost of the former owner appears up at a character's sickbed, simply to impart exposition about the plantation and his now dead family.

Despite the derivative plot, Barrett does come up with two neat plot turns, both near the end of the film. Both attempt, but fall short of pathos, with the second turn drawing its inspiration from George A. Romero’s "Night of the Living Dead." Where "Dead Birds" succeeds, however, is in the period production design by Leslie Keel ("May"), and the atmospheric, chiaroscuro lighting design and camerawork by Steve Yedlin ("May," "The Toolbox Murders" remake), and a memorable, chill-inducing score by Peter Lopez (inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, "The Shining").

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originally posted: 07/05/05 08:01:41
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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
8/25/05 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
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  15-Mar-2005 (R)
  DVD: 15-Mar-2005



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