[Review] The Thing That Ate the Birds (SXSW Online 2021): U.K. Horror Short Combines Creature Feature and the Drama of a Crumbling Marriage

The tension between Abel (Eoin Slattery) and his wife Grace (Rebecca Palmer) is palpable, but their strained relationship takes a back seat when the titular creature comes calling in the U.K. horror short The Thing That Ate the Birds. It’s obvious from their terse interactions that the couple has had problems for a long time, but when Abel and Jake (Lewis Mackinnon) discover exactly what has been laying waste to the fowl on their farmland, the family’s stakes get much higher. 

Cowriters/codirectors Dan Gitsham and Sophie Mair strike a perfect balance between familial drama and suspenseful, gory horror. Their pacing is solid, their dialogue feels realistic, and their use of shots and framing are terrific. James Oldham’s cinematography is absolutely gorgeous, capturing both the captivating landscape of the North Yorkshire Moors and the bloody fright-fare proceedings marvelously. Slattery and Palmer have superb chemistry together, giving their domestic troubles a highly true-to-life feel. The creature design is creepy and effective, and the beast’s reveal is used cleverly and in just the right amount. 

Although the story in The Thing That Ate the Birds works wonderfully as a stand-alone slice of cinema, it would be great to see this short fleshed out into a full-length feature.

By the way, good luck trying to get the short’s final, jarring image out of your head.

The Thing That Ate the Birds, presented by Alter and Gunpowder & Sky,  screened as part of SXSW Online 2021, which ran from March 16–20, 2021. 

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry fell in love with horror films as a preschooler when he first saw the Gill-Man swim across the TV screen in "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" and Mothra battle Godzilla in "Godzilla Vs. The Thing.” His education in fright fare continued with TV series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits," along with legendary northern California horror host Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features." His love for silver age and golden age comic books, including horror titles from Gold Key, Dell, and Marvel started around age 5.

He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Horror Fuel, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right.

A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.