2023 has been a fantastic year for Australian genre films. With worldwide acclaim coming from homegrown horror such as Talk to Me, breakout starring performances from Lily Sullivan (Evil Dead Rise) in sci-fi-mystery Monolith, and late-night television demonic possessions bringing the thrills in Late Night with The Devil. And now, the tension continues to rise to a boiling point in the feature film directorial debut of Jack Clark and Jim Weir with Birdeater.
Young love is on full display as the film follows the recently engaged Irene (Shabana Azeez) and Louie (Mackenzie Fearnley), who seemingly live their idyllic relationship constantly in each other’s company. So much so, that the idea of being separated while Louie is at his buck’s party leads to him inviting Irene to the event. However, high tensions and intoxicated revelations expose concerning aspects about their relationship, and the friendships within the group, turning the night into a much darker affair than anticipated.
Even during the “lovey-dovey” montage that opens the film, there is a lingering, unsettled nature hanging above these two love stuck kids, and that feeling only grows more and more distressing as the story of Birdeater plays out, and the descent into chaos relentlessly rushes towards devastating impacts.
The exploration of separation anxiety, toxic relationships, masculinity, secrets and lies, and how people, especially long-time friends, choose to respond to the devastation of unspoken truths serve as both a confronting reflection of the ‘boys will be boys’ culture that still runs rampant in today’s society, and as a riveting thriller that utilises chaotic cinematography, a bellowing score, and an air-tight script to grab the audience by the collar and not let go, no matter how uncomfortable the film gets.
Defining its genre, Birdeater is a psychological thriller, as the reveals of Louie and Irene’s relationship display the emotional brutality that forcefully co-dependant relationships can do to someone mentally and physically. But, with a brooding layer of dark comedy, and the portrayal of the primal insanity of a typical bush-bash buck’s party, fuelled by booze and drugs, adds an accessible, yet anxiety driven energy to the film that is incredibly captivating, but never loses site of the more challenging elements of the story.
Birdeater is unabashedly authentic in its portrayal of young adults, in all their contradictory complexity, as people who are at a stage in their lives where they border on the line of having just enough life experience to feel like their opinions matter and knowing absolutely jack shit about life. Co-directors and story creators Jack Clark and Jim Weir have such riveting characters drive the narrative of Birdeater, that it almost feels refreshing, ala Talk to Me from earlier this year, that treats early-20-year-olds exactly as they are – foul mouthed, morally challenged, surface-levelled loyal, know-it-alls. Until they’re not… and that’s when the story becomes it’s most compelling by watching this kids have to face adult complexities and responsibilities for the first time.
The film being centred around Irene and Louie allows Shabana Azeez and Mackenzie Fearnley, respectively, to ground the film around them with their authentic portrayals of a young couple, whilst also carrying this ambiguity around their relationship for the first half of the film. The supporting cast is truly fantastic too, with each character serving as a unique perspective and opinion into the film’s themes, often vying against each other as Devil’s advocates (or in some cases, just morally bad people) to allow Birdeater to explore as many different avenues society as possible.
Standing out from the rest however is first time feature film actor, Ben Hunter, best known as a comedian and social media personality who for years has made people laugh with his irreverent humour. His character of Dylan was re-cast after the first block of filming was interrupted, and Hunter was brought in after the original actor playing Dylan could not return due to scheduling. Weir and Clark then re-wrote elements of the character around Hunter’s persona, and it paid off because the character of Dylan is a force to be reckoned with, right from his first frame on screen. Providing a perfect mix of fraternal comedy and intimidating, unwavering Aussie bloke mentality, Dylan’s confrontational style and desire to be chaos incarnate is a truly interesting and intriguing character to follow throughout Birdeater.
For a first-time feature film of co-directors Jack Clark and Jim Weir, Birdeater is a technically astounding film. Their confidence behind the camera in capturing the calmness of a conversation, before frantically throwing the camera around in a chaotic drinking game showcases a fantastic spectrum of their visual abilities as directors. As the film spirals more out of control, as does their direction, and it only exacerbates the unnerving, unflinching tone. One scene in particular, that has an alluring trance type of mood to it, may be one of the scariest non-horror scenes on screen in 2023. Mix in their frantic direction with a booming score that feels grandiose and hyper-realised, and Birdeater becomes one of those movies that shoots directly through your eyes and ears, and lingers around in your body, whether you like how uncomfortable things get, or not. And that’s the whole point – sometimes you have to confront terrible truths, even if the people you love are involved.
Birdeater is unapologetic in its approach to the themes it deals with, both in a narrative and technical sense. This is a truly solid directorial debut from Clark and Weir, who have created a tense thriller that will take audiences down a dark descent of chaos, while confronting them with hard truths about relationships and being complicit to emotional abuse. It’s a brutal film psychologically, but brilliant performance all around, outstanding direction, and a great dash of dark humour make Birdeater one of 2023s best movies!
Birdeater played at this year’s Brisbane International Film Festival, with the festival running from October 26 – November 5. Tickets and information are available at www.biff.com.au . Birdeater will be released by Umbrella Entertainment at a yet to be determined date. Check out my interview with Birdeater co-director Jim Weir here!
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