A Review of Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’

Initially, I felt that the main character Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) was a little odd. She meets criminal lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor), in a pet shop where he plays a sort of “practical joke” on her.  She goes through a lot of work to repay him for the “prank.” She tracks him down and finds his apartment to drop off birds as part of this running gag and when she discovers that he won’t be there for a while she follows him all the way to Bodega Bay where he spends his weekends. Seems like a lot of work just for a jest, especially when it involves a man you just officially meet.

The actor performances were phenomenal. While the film may be a horror film the majority of it plays out as a drama. The first half of the film is spent learning who each character are and why you should care about them. We spend so much time with them that we find ourselves caring what happens to them. When the birds do finally attack and our main characters lives are threatened it feels like there is actually something at stake. This makes death and violence more impactful and truly upsetting.     

The movie is genuinely frightening. Much like Psycho, Hitchcock invites peculiar horrors into a mundane world. It’s a movie that subverts expectations by breaking its own rules. When the film starts we are introduced to a human drama about a San Francisco socialite and a lawyer’s potential romance then halfway through the movie, it’s a war between birds and humans. It is very out of place and throws things off balance making it harder for you to guess what will happen next.  

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Later in the film, when Mitch’s mother Lydia (Jessica Tandy) discovers the body of her neighboring farmer its truly shocking because it’s unexpected. While the character may have died off-screen the discovery of his bloody lifeless body with its eyes sockets hollowed out will always be haunting. It is also worth pointing out that while violence and bloodshed are present it is never unnecessarily morbid or grotesque.

The films use of implied violence is very similar to how we never see the knife pierce Marion’s flesh during “Psycho’s” iconic shower. When the humans are under attack we never see the birds talons dig into flesh, or their becks pick away at skin and meat but we know it’s happening. What goes unseen matters more than what is and even what is seen is done so tastefully. For example, when the birds first victims body is revealed the camera doesn’t spend too much time on the body. It was also refreshing to not be bothered by the loud sound of a useless jump scare (which horror films nowadays are just so pleasantly fond of.)   

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Unlike atomic horror and sci-fi films like “Them!” , there isn’t much investigating done in The Birds to find out why our aviary friends have begun to attack us. It is actually very interesting to watch the story unfold from the perspective of people who have no clue about what’s going on. It makes me wonder how movies such as “Them!” would appear if the story was told from the perspective of civilians rather than state troopers, scientists, and the military. These unanswered questions create mystery, a mystery that will ultimately go unsolved. Satisfy your curiosity and “The Birds” for yourself.

 

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