October 29, 2018 The Book of Birdie (Movie Review)
One of the newest Horror films on the scene, The Book of Birdie made its world premiere back in 2017 at the Göteborg Film Festival 2017, before going on to the Sitges Fantasy Film Festival in Spain and the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival, amongst others. Now, thanks to Reel Suspects, it found distribution on October 2, 2018 on various VOD formats from Amazon to iTunes. What is it about though?
Birdie (a debuting Ilirida Memedovski) is sent to live in a convent by her grandmother (Kathryn Browning: House of Cards series, The Monopoly Club 2013). However, she ends up having haunting hallucinations and violent visions, with an increasing fascination with blood while there. The Mother Superior (Suzan Crowley: How to Train Your Dragon 2010, The Devil Inside 2012) watches over her, as she develops a friendship with the groundskeeper’s daughter Julia (Kitty Fenn: The Fear of Looking Up 2019). The convent is facing closure just as things begin to look stable. Can Birdie go back to a normal life after her visions? What do they mean? Is she a saint, or is she cursed?
Written by Director Elizabeth E. Schuch (Suspension 2006, The Winter 2013) and Costume Designer Anami Tara Shucart (Glee! 2009, Dans Le Noir 2014), the film’s largely female cast and crew have made it notable. It is not something that happens often. Though those looking for some guys will find them in Co-producer Andy Thompson (Kill Keith 2011), Associate Producer João Pedro Fleck (Kryptonite 2015), and Music Man David Kemp (Twist Tie 2019), as well as others. Yet, this Gothic Horror is essentially about a girl in an all-female environment. So, viewers should know what they are getting themselves into. But will they bless it or damn it?
Well, for one thing, it looks stunning on screen. Particularly with its use of color and lighting. The wintry scenes look colder and barren with its white and light blue tones, or dark and foreboding with its dark red tinges. The VFX, arranged by London-based studio Melancholy Star, also really help bring out Birdie’s trippier visions and nightmares. It is no wonder they shared the nomination, and win, with Cinematographer Konstantinos Koutsoliotas (Guardians of the Galaxy 2014, Street Fighter: Resurrection series) for the Best Cinematography prize in Brooklyn. When the visuals are not emphasizing the film’s mood, they bring some skin-crawling imagery to life.
The visuals almost carry the film, like 2018’s other religious-themed Horror The Song of Solomon, yet they come from different camps. The Song of Solomon essentially used its characters and story to carry the effects, putting on a tour-de-force spectacle of gore. In The Book of Birdie, the effects carry the characters and are more reserved by comparison. Birdie may bleed, but it does not come out in arterial spurts. It is more stigmata-like as she tries to fit into the pious life and live with Jesus, while finding more earthly delights with Julia.
That is not to say the acting or the writing is not much to write home about. The Book of Birdie offers an intriguing tale, and some solid performances. Memedovski does rather well for her first feature film, fitting the bill as the introverted, troubled lead role. Fenn, relatively new herself, is also good as Julia, and she has good chemistry with Memedovski. It is more in the sense that the film tells a lot through its visuals alone.
The dialogue sets the scene and connects the characters, but it is relatively sparse by comparison. Not that it would have benefited much by having more banter and chatter. It just means The Book of Birdie is almost pure cinema in telling its story through visuals and expressions. Though without Kemp’s eerie musical score, its biggest scenes would not have been as effective.
The Book of Birdie starts off slow, but it soon zips along its 1 hour 30 running time as Birdie’s visions manifest. Those looking for something a little more shocking or grisly may not find it here, but it does offer a spooky, melancholy treat for the eyes. Think of it as the Horror movie equivalent of a slow dance number – it slows things down a touch to get into a mood and linger there. So, this film could make a nice palate cleanser after the slashers and shockers. As far as haunting dramas go, it is one of the better ones. As such, for these reasons, CrypticRock gives The Book of Birdie 4 out of 5 stars.