After having its North American premiere at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival, the indie horror short The Thing That Ate the Birds arrives at Indy's own Indy Shorts International Film Festival as part of the fest's recent addition called Heartland Horror.
Yes, it's true. Heartland Film has found an uncanny way to add the world of horror to its acclaimed slate of life-changing movies that matter.
Here's the thing.
There's no question that The Thing That Ate the Birds matters.
The film centers around an isolated couple whose isolation is both geographical and relational in nature. Abel (Eoin Slattery) is a head gameskeeper who has discovered that something is eating his grouse. His wife, Grace (Rebecca Palmer), is clearly more than a little disgruntled living amidst the North Yorkshire Moors and she can barely hide her resentment toward this man whom she presumably once loved.
As Abel heads off with Jake (Lewis Mackinnon) determined to discover the cause behind his birds' demise, there's an aura of mystery and anxiety afloat with a retro-horror vibe eliciting a sense of dread and inevitability. When Jake and Abel finally discover the culprit (James Swanton), their actions ripple like the angry waves crashing into Robin Hood's Bay.
The Thing That Ate the Birds leaves you wanting even more. The film is both immensely satisfying yet there are so many different ways in which co-writers and directors Dan Gitsham and Sophie Mair could have widened the film's cinematic landscape.
These are incredibly compelling characters brought to life by incredibly compelling actors.
Eoin Slattery is riveting as Abel, vulnerability and edge both crashing into one another and his almost guttural presence seems at odds with Grace yet also immersive with her. Slattery uses a remarkable physicality to bring Abel to life and amps up the film's sense of dread remarkably well over the course of a mere 12-minute short.
Rebecca Palmer's Grace carries an air of culture about her. It's clear from moment one that she's unhappy in this rural setting and it's equally clear she sees life as more than what Abel is offering her. Yet, she's never a caricature and you can't help but feel her deep within your bones.
James Swanton is exceptional in a performance best left undescribed, though suffice it to say he's practically everything you could possibly want from such a character. It's a beautiful, beautiful performance.
Original music by Krantz is absolutely exquisite in the way it immerses us into the film's unfolding scenario. There's a classic atmosphere that is revealed through Krantz's music and especially toward the end it's perfection. Lensing by James Oldham is equally perfect with a closing shot that leaves me chilled to this moment.
Gitsham and Mair tell a remarkable story over the course of the film's 12-minute running time. The Thing That Ate the Birds is wonderfully paced and memorable from beginning to end.
The Thing That Ate the Birds captured the Heartland Horror top prize at Indy Shorts and should see its awards haul continue to grow as it continues its festival journey. A unique, inspired indie horror short, The Thing That Ate the Birds is one you won't soon forget.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic