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BIRDEATER Review: A Dark Tale of Relationship Toxicity

A man stands at a table reading from a note in front of a group of friends
Image courtesy of SXSW

Relationships are complex and typically require considerable effort to navigate successfully. Even with dedication and time invested, there's no assurance that the end result will be a fairytale. However, when a relationship is built upon a shaky foundation of codependency and control, the resulting web of emotional and mental turmoil can lead to a loss of identity. In BIRDEATER, the debut feature film by writers/directors Jack Clark and Jim Weir, this situation happens when a bachelor party turns dark, and a devastating secret about an engaged couple is revealed.

In BIRDEATER, young couple Louie (Mackenzie Fearnley) and Irene (Shabana Azeez) have recently become engaged. Initially, a gentle sweetness exists in the space between them until it's suddenly revealed that Louie is drugging Irene, who is conscious of this each time he has to leave the house. Right off the bat, the ease and acceptance that lingers between them over this ritualistic act is a big ol’ red flag.

While planning their wedding, Irene starts to show anxiety about the relationship, leading Louie to invite her to his buck [bachelor] party with a surprise in mind. After arriving at the beautiful countryside cottage, they meet up with Louie’s friends from private school for a weekend of fun, relaxation, and debauchery. However, what is supposed to be a magical experience during a celebratory dinner instead turns into an evening where devastating secrets are revealed. 

At the forefront of BIRDEATER are our betrothed couple, Louie and Irene. Mackenzie delivers a superb performance as Louie, portraying him as unassuming with that typical "I’m a nice guy" air. However, the subtle shifts in his personality reveal more sinister intentions, and Mackenzie captures this excellently. As for Shabana, she gives a lovely performance, appearing soft on the surface yet harboring a hint of darkness behind her eyes. Through her subtle expressions alone, we glean more about her character than from anything she says. Together, both actors do a tremendous job of bringing the nuanced complexities of their character's relationship to life.

Louie's core group of friends consists of Dylan and Charlie, who have been by his side since their private school days. Hunter effortlessly embodies chaos with his portrayal of Dylan, especially since he's the one who ignites the fuse for what's to come. Meanwhile, Bannister takes a more aggressive approach in portraying Charlie, a conservative Christian whose demeanor becomes increasingly pronounced as the night progresses. Both are responsible for knowing the insidious act that took place and choosing to justify it.

Completing the ensemble cast are Clementine Anderson as Grace, Charlie's more liberal Christian fiancée; Alfie Gledhill as Murph, Louie's close friend who plays a crucial role in a secretive event Louie plans to execute; Harley Wilson as Sam, a red herring skillfully utilized to illustrate the jealousy festering within Louie; and Carlone McQuade as Lady Lazarus, a symbol of hedonistic desires whose presence reaches its zenith in the third act.

The film delves deeply into themes of toxic masculinity and the unchecked nature of abuse when one's actions go unchallenged. The title, BIRDEATER, aptly refers to predators that prey on birds, serving as a metaphor for the predatory behavior depicted in the story. While we might hope such issues remain confined to the screen, they persist in reality today. However, what Clark and Weir also emphasize is the cycle of abuse, where victims can sometimes become perpetrators themselves. Their slow-burn approach to unveiling the dark underbelly of this relationship is masterful, keeping the audience on edge and enveloped in unease throughout.

Weir and Clark excel in bringing the story to life, ensuring that the audience is fully immersed in the narrative. The third act, which delves into the chaos following the pivotal dinner scene, is undeniably intense. However, I found it slightly disjointed at times, particularly as these chaotic moments coincide with the presentation of memories surrounding the early moments of Louie and Irene's relationship. As a result, some crucial information was lost in translation during this portion of the film. Nevertheless, this approach didn't significantly detract from my enjoyment of the movie.

Ultimately, BIRDEATER explores a relationship founded upon instability, guilt, and the insatiable desire to possess what others cannot. When this foundation begins to show its cracks, it highlights the lingering remnants of the boys' club mentality that still permeates society, enabling individuals to evade accountability. It also highlights the swift transformation from which a victim can become the abuser.

From start to finish, BIRDEATER instills a pervasive sense of unease, challenging the viewer to form their own opinion about the truth playing out on screen. It serves as a stark reminder that while no relationship is immune to difficulties, some may find solace in perpetuating a cycle of abuse to maintain their status quo.

BIRDEATER had its International Premiere at the 2024 SXSW Film Festival.


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