Dead Birds

Rating 3

Directed by Alex Turner

Written by Simon Barrett

Starring Henry Thomas, Patrick Fugit, Nicki Aycox, Isaiah Washington, Michael Shannon, Mark Boone Junior and Muse Watson

An outlaw gang robs a bank in Fairhope, Alabama in 1862, stealing gold being deposited there by a battalion of the Confederate army.

William (Henry Thomas, who will probably always be best remembered for his role as Elliott in ‘ET’), the gang’s leader, accidentally shoots dead a small boy as the gang makes its escape. His younger brother Sam (Patrick Fugit) takes a bullet in the shoulder and the gang holes up over night in a deserted plantation house. Petty squabbles between the gang members escalate as the creepy claustrophobia of the house increases their paranoia and begins to cause them to see disturbing visions.

‘Dead Birds’ is a direct-to-DVD haunted house horror with voodoo overtones, its storyline sharing the same basic theme as the Kate Hudson film ‘The Skeleton Key’. What initially makes it stand out is the setting – the period of the American civil war. In some ways it put me in mind of ‘Deathwatch’, the creepy little 2002 British horror film set in the trenches during the First World War.

The second thing to become apparent is the snail-paced narrative. This film moves along very slowly and next to nothing seems to happen for much of the time. Most of the film is set inside the eerie house in the dead of night during a rainstorm, with only oil lamps for light. The acting is equally low-key. The performance of Isaiah Washington, as one example, is so understated that if he had underplayed the role a touch more he would probably have vanished altogether. Washington had previously been in the under-rated horror film ‘Ghost Ship’ and later became embroiled in controversy leading to his removal from the television show ‘Grey’s Anatomy’.

I liked this film a lot. I liked the look of it. I liked the funeral-march pace. I liked the performances. It is derivative – the use of the old house; the rainstorm at night; the cornfield that hides evil. It doesn’t add anything new to the genre, but it makes good use all these elements.

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