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Dead Birds
2004 - R - 91 Mins.
Director: Alex Turner
Producer: Laura Warner and Simon Barrett
Written By: Simon Barrett
Starring: Henry Thomas, Nicki Lynn Aycox, Patrick Fugit, Isaiah Washington, Michael Shannon
Review by: Joe Rickey
   
A low budget (2-3 million reported) attempt at a horror film set in the Old West concerning a band of bank robbers on the run who decide to hole up in what appears to be an abandoned mansion where they encounter ghostly and otherwise ethereal beings with murderous intentions. 'Dead Birds' shows promise early on before falling flat on its face.

'Dead Birds' is another in the increasingly long line of horror films that skipped your local cinema and instead headed straight to the rack at the video stores (and online rental outlets) everywhere. Helmed by Alex Turner from Simon Barrett's script, the film starts out with a bang (or two or three...) as the gang of robbers, all white except for the token black (must films always adhere to stereotypes?) conduct a bank heist in a blaze of glory, killing everyone in sight in a scene so gleefully gory and visceral that one automatically raises their hopes for what is to come.

Unfortunately, what comes is a deadly dull exercise in atmosphere (read: the script didn't have a lot of meat and/or the producers ran out of money) as we are subjected to over an hour of the thieves investigating the mansion slowly, and boy, do I mean slowly. The film takes its time showing each member of the gang going room from room carrying a dimly-lit lantern (it's the 1860's after all), occasionally one will think they see something that looks like a small child but nothing really ever comes of this trickery.

The film also sees fit to toss in the old chestnut of plot development where the thieves don't trust one another (Why would they? They're thieves after all) which leads to half-hearted bickering on the part of all involved. At some point, the filmmakers begin to again realize that a film has to tell a halfway interesting story so they decide to have the aforementioned token black thief experience visions (you see, the mansion used to be the home of a slave trader who conducted ritual sacrifices of his slaves and then his children in an effort to cure his ailing wife). Those looking for any more explanation will be sorely disappointed because these rapidly-edited montages of grotesque imagery are all we are given regarding back-story (or story at all for that matter). Therein lays the problem with the film. As constructed, 'Dead Birds' has such a thin excuse for story that even the most patient of viewers are going to be rummaging for something to eat as a way to keep themselves awake to the film's bitter end. For all intents and purposes, the film would have worked much better as an hour-long television presentation because stretching it out makes 91 minutes seem like an eternity. There just isn't enough here to the point that all the atmosphere the filmmakers conjure up (and there are some scenes that drip with it to good effect) is all one is left with. You've probably heard of "all style and no substance"? 'Dead Birds' is an example of all atmosphere and no substance.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Bland, boring, inept. Forgettable. Bland, boring, inept. Forgettable.
  1.5 out of 5 stars

 
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