15 ago. 2014

My Review: The Birds (7/10)

"Have you ever seen so many gulls? What do you suppose it is?"

After having surprised and shocked audiences with Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock followed it up with another horror film, The Birds, which is more straightforward and generic than the rest of his films, but he still did experiment quite a bit with some elements here. There are no surprises or unexpected twists in The Birds and it pretty much plays out as a standard thriller slowly building the suspense by introducing us to the characters so we can identify with them. He didn't use psychological suspense either like he did in so many of his films, he just let the narrative unfold gradually. This may sound like a standard horror film, but what Hitchcock experiments with here is the lack of a musical score to accompany the film. Most thrillers rely on eerie scores to help set the mood, and we know Hitchcock included them often such as in films like Vertigo and Psycho, but here rather than introducing music he uses the sound of birds to scare audiences. Many people complain that the effects are outdated, but it didn't bother me at all, I thought they were really well done and I felt the tension during some of these scenes that have become classic by now (such as the scene where Tippi Hedren's character is trapped inside a phone booth as the birds are attacking the town, and the climatic scene where the birds are surrounding Rod Taylor's home). Those were memorable scenes full of tension, but I did have some issues with the pacing of the story. 

Hitchcock made sure we cared for the characters and during the first hour of the film he spends time building a possible romantic relationship between Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren. This is where I wished the main characters were played by more charismatic actors such as James Stewart and Kim Novak where the chemistry between them would seem stronger, and that would have engaged me more with a story I kind of felt was silly otherwise. The premise is kind of out there since I really never believed the threat of the birds nor felt their presence haunting, but Hitchcock still managed to build in a few scares despite it all. The bay near San Francisco where this film mostly takes place was a perfect setting and I actually enjoyed the fact that it took place in an enclosed space like this. It sort of made the audience believe these characters were enclosed and surrounded by the birds. Hitchcock can build suspense out of nearly anything and despite my disbelief of the birds being a real threat there were times I did feel that tension. The way in which he exchanges shots from one scene to the next like he did in the phone booth with exterior shots exchanged with interior ones really helps build the suspense and create a tense atmosphere. The Birds may not have much psychological depth, but it plays out quite well as a generic disaster film and slowly builds its way up to a rather interesting climatic scene (I mean switch the birds for zombies and you realize where George A. Romero may have got his ideas for Night of the Living Dead). The Birds isn't amongst my favorite Hitchcock films, but I still had a fun time with it.

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