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 / 5)