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Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents

Dead Birds (2004)

"It don't look like any kind of mountain cat I ever seen."- Todd (Isaiah Washington)

Stars: Alex Turner, Henry Thomas, Patrick Fugit
Other Stars: Nicki Aycox, Michael Shannon, Muse Watson, Mark Boone Junior, Isaiah Washington
Director: Alex Turner

MPAA Rating: R for (strong violence, gore)
Run Time: 01h:30m:57s
Release Date: 2005-03-15
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- C-AB+ B+


DVD Review

Is it just me, or does it seem that more and more horror movies these days receive a ton of internet buzz and then only make theatrical appearances at film festivals? Dead Birds is one such film. This period horror film had its world premiere at the 2004 Toronto Film Festival, showed up at a couple more festivals around the world, and is now coming straight to domestic DVD. Should the film have been given a proper US theatrical release?

Well, unfortunately, the answer is no. The film has a great premise and a promising opening 10 minutes, with a group of bank robbers doing what they do best in a very gory, intense sequence. This might be the bloodiest sequence ever shot for a film set in the 1860s, actually. Once the robbers leave the bank and wind up at an old abandoned house, the film slows to a crawl. It's just too bad that roughly 80 minutes of the film take place inside this house.

Dead Birds tells the story of five confederate soldiers and a woman who have just robbed a bank, made their escape, and are finding refuge in an old plantation. The group seems to be divided as far as loyalties go: William and Sam are brothers, while Annabelle is William's lover. Clyde and Joseph seem to have their own agenda and show no loyalty to the others, including Todd, an ex-slave who might also be on his own. Once they enter the house, they soon realize that they might not be its only inhabitants.

The main problem with Dead Birds is the unnervingly slow pace. Many successful horror films have a languid pace, but usually have enough scares and plot devices thrown in throughout to keep the viewer interested. Here, almost nothing happens from the point the group arrives at the house until there is about 15 minutes left in the film. We're talking nearly an hour gap where all that we see is members of the group slowly walking through each room of the house, as we, the viewers, wait for something—ANYTHING—to jump out and scare them (us). At one point, I was even hoping the standard "cat jumping out of a dark space" cliché would occur. Alas, no luck.

Director Alex Turner does a great job creating an eerie atmosphere from the get-go. The dirty, gritty nature of the Civil War era is wonderfully rendered here; it's just too bad that Turner couldn't blend the look and feel with a good scary storyline. He does manage to get solid performances out of Henry Thomas, Patrick Fugit, and Isaiah Washington—even they don't have much material to work with for the most part. This is just the classic case of a film with great bookends but next to nothing in between.

Dead Birds gets a surprisingly good DVD release, given the fact hardly anyone has even heard of it. The audio and video are excellent, yet not quite reference-quality. The number of extras is the real surprise, with not one but two entertaining audio commentaries. There's also a collection of deleted scenes, some trailers, and a lengthy documentary about the making of the film.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: C-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Despite the disappointing film, the video presentation is quite good. Incredibly detailed images are a constant, while the black levels are rendered perfectly for this film that was shot in rooms that are lit entirely by candlelight. Movies like this often suffer from overly murky images due to their darkness, but this transfer survives that potential problem. Colors are solid and true to the time period, while fleshtones are accurate. There is very little grain present and I can't recall any dirt or other blemishes along the way.

Image Transfer Grade: A

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is also very nice. Wide dynamic range is utilized quite a bit during the film's opening and closing sequences where gunshots and creatures are zooming across the screen in all directions. The rear speakers come to life during these sequences as well, creating a very nice, involving soundfield. Creepy music is used effectively by the track, and is aided by tight, aggressive bass that gives the subwoofer a workout at times. There aren't any problems with the dialogue clarity either, as it's seamlessly integrated into the overall mix.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+ 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Thai with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, The Grudge, Wake of Death
5 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by 1. Director Alex Turner2. Cast and Crew
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: For an unknown film like Dead Birds, the extras on-board are a very nice surprise. There's two audio commentaries, one with director Alex Turner, and the other with Turner, cast members Henry Thomas and Nicki Aycox, composer Peter Lopez, and writer Simon Barrett. The first track is very detailed, with Turner dissecting Dead Birds and touching on what he thought was good and bad about the film. The second track is also very Turner-heavy, but the other participants do offer some nice insight into the parts they played in the making of the film.

Five deleted scenes are also here, none of which should have been included in the finished film. Each of these can also be viewed with commentary by director Alex Turner.

There's also a very nice 27-minute documentary called Making Dead Birds. This piece is much more involved and informative than the standard EPK fluff that is dumped onto many DVDs. This is a chronicle of the production from beginning to end, starting with a script meeting. It's just very refreshing to have a bird's-eye view of what truly goes into the making of a major motion picture.

Extras Grade: B+

Final Comments

A group of fine actors and a creepy premise aren't enough to save this movie with a hole in its middle. Still, a solid DVD presentation including some nice extras just might make this worth a rental.

Chuck Aliaga 2005-03-07