Last night after I got home from work I was skimming through the channels and found the movie Dead Birds playing on Fearnet via Comcast’s OnDemand service. Normally, Fearnet is a load of rubbish but occasionally I find something good on there. I’d seen Dead Birds years ago when it originally came out on dvd. What I like about the movie is that it is set during the Civil War, and manages to capture both the era and the aspects of supernatural horror very well. Upon watching it last night I realize that some of the acting and writing is weak during the early part but as things progress the story and acting get better. The movie demonstrates the importance of setting, and how it can be a character in the story. Dead Birds is mainly set in an abandoned Southern plantation house in the middle of a thick cornfield. The characters are more or less trapped there because the Confederate army is looking for them. Being isolated in a remote location is always a great atmosphere for a horror story. Throw in some bizarre hallucinations/ghosts and creepy voices and it adds to the tension. I liked the fact that Dead Birds wasn’t simply a haunted house movie, there was subplot involving what to do with the gold they stole. The leader wants to divide it once they get to Mexico the next day while another pair wants to divide it up and go their separate ways that night. There’s a minor storyline where a sense of paranoia and conspiracy develops amongst the two sides throughout the movie.
The supernatural aspects of Dead Birds is subtle at first, whispered voices and etc. One of the best scenes is when one of the characters is looking out a window at night and lightning flashes. During the flash the face of a demonic character appears briefly, and then fades with the lightning. I love the subtle style used in the movie, rather then busted skulls and puddles of blood. Early on the movie is far more psychological and creepy then visceral.
That’s not to say the movie is bloodless. It just chooses to use the graphic bloody horror aspects in a limited but very effective manner. When something horrific happens to some body it is powerful and increases the terror. I would say there’s no gratuitous gore and violence in this movie which is a big reason I liked it. It uses those aspects in an intelligent manner.
I also liked the way the movie slowly revealed the true nature of the house and what had happened. Throughout the movie small clues are revealed and hinted at and in the end I ended up having a good idea of what had occurred.
One thing that does hurt the movie is that you don’t know enough about the characters to really care what happens to them. There’s no one to root for or against. The characters are looking to get rich and run off to Mexico but you never know why, other then personal greed I suppose. If there was some other reason for them to be on the run, or for robbing the bank in the beginning then there may be a reason to like them or care about their plight. But as it stands I really did not care. The only character that I sorta liked, but would’ve preferred to see/learn more about was Todd. That’s because he showed compassion for a slave found in the house and attempts to help her. There’s another subplot where the leader of the group accidentally kills a boy while robbing the bank and seems remorseful about it. But neither of these ideas is really fully developed and I think the movie could’ve been a lot better if it’d been explored more.
As it stands, Dead Birds is a fun movie and an interesting spin on the haunted house sub genre of horror.