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, after incredibly successful premieres at both the Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals, Birdeater is making it’s Queensland debut at the Brisbane International Film Festival.
When a bride-to-be in a couple who seemingly suffer from separation anxiety is invited by her fiancée to his own buck’s party, revelations about their relationship are expose, and the already tension filled night takes a more feral turn.
Before it’s first screening at BIFF, I had the chance to chat with the film’s co-director, Jim Weir, about why Birdeater was the right choice for him as his debut feature film, and why thrillers are such great vessels to explore complex themes.
Nick: I’m excited to see the film tonight, but I wanted to know what it was about Birdeater and this story that you thought was right to make as your feature film debut?
Jim Weir: For a while we [Jim and co-director Jack Clark] wanted to make a movie about young people, but in the way we know them, which is complex characters that have contradictions. We were really interested in emotional abuse in relationships, but the more, kind of, subtle, insidious type of abuse that we see amongst our friends that sort of go unspoken. Relationships where you can’t underline a certain thing as wrong. But still, there is something there if you look at the big picture, you can see that it’s not quite right.
We had this idea for a movie about a couple with separation anxiety. We thought there was a really great inbuilt structure where you set up a couple with separation anxiety, and then in the third act, you separate them, and you see what happens. And at our starting point, we have the idea of making it a buck’s party setting. It’s one of the last rituals in our culture where the sexes get separated. And then that became a movie about a buck’s party where some of the girls were invited, and what that does to a buck’s party setting – just having women there and observing how the men’s behaviour changes.
Nick: I find it interesting that you mentioned a movie that deals with young people authentically, because another Australian movie that did that really well as a ‘genre movie’ this year was Talk to Me! Does that excite you as an emerging filmmaker that Australian’s really seems to be nailing horror and thriller movies at the moment, and audiences want to see them?
Jim Weir: Yeah, absolutely! It’s an exciting time for genre filmmaking. Like, Late Night with The Devil, too? How good was that!? I’m seeing You’ll Never Find Me this week at BIFF!
Nick: Having just seen the trailer for this film so far, I get the sense there is a really unsettling, thriller tone to the film. What is it about this genre that you feel is such a good vessel to explore the sorts of complex themes you are in Birdeater?
Jim Weir: I think it’s just the tension of thrillers, for the most part. Romantic relationships are inherently tense already, right? Because romantic relationships, unlike familial relationships or friendships, are built on the constant threat of loss. Anyone can just leave, and there’s such a tension to that that people don’t really talk about. That people don’t really like to think about. We thought it played pretty naturally into our story and the genre.
Nick: Again, going off the trailer, there seems to a distinct visual style during parts of the film that align with the chaotic nature of a buck’s party. What was the collaboration like with Jack [Clark] in deciding the visual language for your film?
Jim Weir: Yeah, you’ll see in the movie when you watch it that it’s quite a steady descent. It was something we talked about for a long time beforehand. We wanted to film something that felt kind of like a heavy camera with not too much movement. These locked off shots that deliberately trying to go against the grain in terms of what other low budget, indie features do with lots of handheld camerawork. Or even, like, the indie rock soundtracks. We wanted a bold, classical score.
Eventually, these elements get pretty crazy. But, I only think it’s crazy because of for so long in the film, we sit in something that visually feels somewhat safe… until it’s not.
Nick: I have to ask about Ben Hunter, because I’ve been following his Instagram for ages, and I think he is hilarious. But, if I’m not mistaken, this is his first feature film, and first quite dramatic role. How did you come across Ben for this role?
Jim Weir: We actually had a different actor playing the character, and we shot half the movie! But, we had so many problems in our first shooting block. Everyone needed to come back for reshoots, and the guy we had playing Dylan couldn’t come back for reshoots and had to leave the project. We had to throw out their scenes.
Then we had a six-month break before we could shoot again, that’s how long it took to refinance. And we didn’t want to find an actor that would do the same thing or run the same version of the character. We thought that there’s an opportunity to really shake up what we think about this character, and really throw the actors off balance because we love doing that!
Nick: I guess that also works in the nature of the film right!
Jim Weir: Yeah, absolutely. So, we started looking at comedians. We reached out to and auditioned a lot of comedians. Like, really funny guys, absolutely terrible actors. But, Ben Hunter, he went to school with Jack, the other director, and he knew how funny Ben was. And he knew there was kind of this dangerous quality. Meanwhile, Ben had done a little bit of acting and it turns out he’s got some dramatic chops!
Thank you to Jim for taking the time to chat with me, and thank you to BIFF for organising our interview. Birdeater is currently playing at Brisbane International Film Festival, with a special Q+A screening featuring Jim Weir on Sunday, November 5. Tickets are available at www.biff.com.au .
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