I love a good horror film, the likes of which have been replaced by slasher films and thrillers that fold in a bit of gore. The horror genre has been around since the beginning of cinema, flourished during the Hollywood studio system, but in the 50s was down-graded to B movie status. The United Kingdom moved to the forefront of the genre in the 60s when Hammer Studios spent several years producing some of the best horror films by re-imagining many of the classic horror stories. Itâs a thrill to see Brits ö gay directors, no less ö back in the game with “Unhappy Birthday.”
Talented writers and directors Mark Harriott and Mike Mathews turn a surprise birthday party/family reunion into a nightmare for a sexy city couple, Sadie (Christina de Vallee) and Rick (David Paisley), and their sassy gay friend Jonny (Jonathon Keane). Rick wants to surprise Sadie by bringing her to the remote tidal island of Amen, where her long-lost creepy sister Corrinne (Jill Riddiford) resides. Family secrets are revealed. The entire community of the island soon begins to recognize the threat the outsiders pose, and, with the tide trapping our three leads, thereâs no way out. The consequences are both suspenseful and horrific. “Unhappy Birthday” proves true to its genre.
The film has all the elements needed to fully engage its audience. The setting is appropriately threatening and the filmmakers make great use of images of inky waves, rising tides, deserted beaches and washed-out rural roads. The plot has plenty of the twists and turns required of psychological thrillers, but never comes off as too far-fetched. Some sexy situations and bits of sophisticated humor allow the necessary break from the tension, without becoming too much of a diversion. The expert pacing keeps the film moving along at nice clip and quickens as the film comes to its surprising conclusion.
“Unhappy Birthday” is certain to find an audience among horror film fans, many of whom are gay men. Our queer filmmakers were wise to include a sub-plot that gay men will find appealing. The gifted cast was obviously game for anything that was asked of them and they never fail to deliver. It’s rare that a film hits every mark in its given genre. ãUnhappy Birthdayä is well worth the journey to its island of lost souls, but one wouldnât want to spend too much time marooned with the islandâs mysterious inhabitants.
“Unhappy Birthday” was shown at the Roxie Theater Tuesday, June 21.