Alex Turner's first full-length feature, Dead Birds, is a far cry from his darkly funny short films, Disposal and Chuck. Set at the tail end of the Civil War, Dead Birds is a sort of psychological horror western, focusing on a sextet of bank robbers who encounter an evil greater than themselves. The concept would have made for a great short, but as a feature....
William (Thomas) and Sam (Fugit) are bank robbing brothers who pull of a bloody heist of Confederate cash with the help of William's gorgeous girlfriend, Annabelle (Aycox), and gunsling former slave, Todd (Washington). Along with two other accomplices, the gang flee into the woods to an abandoned estate that William has secured as a hideout until it is safe to leave for Mexico. When, one by one, the fugitives begin having strange visions and eerie encounters with the home's former occupants, it becomes obvious that they must leave. That is, if the house lets them.
The concept, cast, and creative folks behind Dead Birds intrigued the hell out of me, as I've seen Turner's short films and was very impressed by the director's visual style, as well as his ability to pack a whole lot into a limited amount of time. However, with his first feature-length production, it seems as though Turner was either completely overwhelmed by the scale of the film, or just didn't have a script that offered enough to fill 90 plus minutes. So, what we are left with is a movie that would have been a fantastic 45 minute short, stretched out to twice that length, and padded with lots of drawn out set-ups, cameras lingering on people and places, and a pace so plodding that the DVD should come with complimentary amphetamines.
The performances are solid, but the characters are written so one dimensionally that it's hard to notice. A big part of the horror of watching a character die in a film requires that we at least feel something for them, but I found myself simply shrugging with each demise, and thinking "which guy was that, now?"
The special effects in the film are pedestrian at best, but I did find the antagonists to be original looking and fairly creepy. There were also a few moments where I found myself caught off guard by well-placed "stings", but, for the most part, the film moved so slowly I had a hard time getting deep enough into it for most of the scares to do their job.
The DVD from Columbia Tristar presents the film in widescreen format, with a pair of commentary tracks, a featurette, deleted scenes (w/commentary) and previews for other Columbia Tristar releases.
I have to say that I was really disappointed by Dead Birds, as I had read some interesting stuff about the project, and, as mentioned, really enjoyed Alex Turner's short films. I also found the concept to be something rather fresh and exciting, but, sadly, the film simply couldn't live up to it. Dead Birds isn't an awful film, as there are a few choice moments and occasional scares, but it could have been so much more.