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The Overlook Film Festival 2024 Review - BIRDEATER

Birdeater review
A bachelor party, at which the bride-to-be is a guest, takes a dark turn.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Jim Weir, Jack Clark

Starring: Shabana Azeez, Mackenzie Fearnley, Ben Hunter, Jack Bannister, Clementine Anderson, Alfie Gledhill, Harley Wilson

Birdeater poster

I'm not privy to the ages of the Australian filmmaking duo of Jack Clark and Jim Weir, but their debut feature Birdeater simultaneously plays like the work of experienced old heads who have seen a lot of life and that of immature film school graduates determined to distinguish themselves with distracting and gimmicky visuals. While the latter at times reaches obnoxious levels, it's not enough to take away from what is one of the most distinctive dissections of toxic relationships to arrive on screens in some time.

The screens Birdeater is initially arriving on are those of the horror film festival circuit, which is highly misleading. Far from Ozploitation, Birdeater is more akin to a millennial descendant of the dark Australian dramas of Ray Lawrence (Lantana; Jindabyne) with its eruption of secrets held from loved ones and friends.

Birdeater reviews

Stag parties (Or "buck's parties" as they're known in Australia) rarely end well, usually with a lot of sore heads, regrets and someone left tied naked to a lamp post. The only thing dumber than embarking on a stag party is to invite the bride-to-be along. That's the amateur hour mistake made by Louie (Mackenzie Fearnley), who insists on pressing ahead with his stag party even though his English fiancée Irene (Shabana Azeez) has been displaying cold feet regarding their marriage plans. As Irene suffers from intense separation anxiety to the point that she has to take a tranquilser every time Louie leaves her side for a prolonged period, Louie decides to invite her along to the party.

Louie's second mistake is to hold said party at a cabin in the remote woods. There the couple are joined by a bunch of Louie's friends. The nerdy Murph (Alfie Gledhill) is a collaborator in some ambiguous plan Louie has concocted. Hellraiser Dylan (Ben Hunter) has a pocketful of Ketamine and a head full of bad ideas. Bisexual libertine Sam (Harley Wilson) may or may not have some sexual history with Irene. Charlie (Jack Bannister) has brought along his uptight Christian girlfriend Grace (Clementine Anderson).

Birdeater reviews

Birdeater spends its first act struggling to establish its tone. Thanks to some intensely annoying editing it's almost headache inducing, and there are some bizarrely staged character interactions that will have you waiting for punchlines that never arrive. The sound mix, dominated by a combination of needle drops and an original chiptunes flavoured score by Andreas Dominguez, often renders the dialogue unintelligible. To suggest your patience may be tested is an understatement.

But stick through this initial period and you'll be richly rewarded once the film settles down. After the initial bout of drinking and dumb party games, the attendees gather for an increasingly uncomfortable dinner. Dylan sets the tone with a roast speech designed to rattle Louie's feathers. When Louie refuses to see the funny side, Dylan wanders off script and makes some damning accusations regarding Louie's initial courtship of Irene. With bellies full of beer and synapses sparking with Ketamine, those gathered around the table take turns to reveal secrets and make ambiguous accusations. The true nature of everything implied is held back from the viewer until a final act flashback adds some vital context.

Birdeater is a damning indictment of how young men behave in each other's company, and of how they can manipulate young women, but it's not simply a case of one -sided man-bashing. Louie's unsettling treatment of Irene, whom he has all but zombified, is mirrored by how Charlie has given up his own personality to fit in with Grace's Christian beliefs. The film takes a rather cynical view of relationships, suggesting that they so often rely on one half becoming subservient to the other.

Birdeater reviews

As the film progresses we begin to be seduced by its previously irritating rhythms, as though we too have popped some pills and they're only now taking effect. The flashy visuals of the first act find their footing in the final act, with a bravura sequence that beat matches images and sound to take us from the present day to a fraught flashback, and a nightmarish scene involving a middle-aged stripper that wouldn't be out of place in a David Lynch movie.

Australian dramas have often tended towards the cynical, leaving their characters in a worse state than when we found them. That's not quite the case here. Louie, Irene et al were in a doomed place to begin with; it's only by the end of the film that we realise just how bad things really are. Many viewers will be turned off by Birdeater's coked up visual hysterics, which is a shame as this is a car crash that reveals its true horrors when the storytelling slows down to observe its casualties.

Birdeater plays at The Overlook Film Festival from April 5th.

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