by Hope Madden
The pandemic — as crushing and debilitating as it was for so many people — also showed us how resilient people could be. Nowhere is that clearer than with art and, in particular, filmmaking.
To continue to create, filmmakers had to get creative in ways they may not have in the past. They limited themselves to small casts, tight locations, small crews — nothing terribly new to low-budget indie filmmakers. Sometimes that sparked something excellent, like Roshan Sethi’s 7 Days.
But there’s no room for weakness when an audience’s attention is focused so narrowly. Here’s where Chris Cullardi and Jennifer Raite’s mindbender The Aviary comes up short.
Malin Akerman and Lorenza Izzo are two friends escaping Seth (Chris Messina) and Skylight, a cult in the New Mexican desert. Each woman comes at the journey and the decision to break from their confines a bit differently. As the escape grows more and more complicated and terrifying, those differences breed distrust.
Akerman’s solid if uninspired as the more rugged and world-wise Jillian, once a high-ranking member of the organization. She lured Blair (Izzo) into the fold and now feels responsible to get her safely away.
Izzo’s performance stands out a bit more, ranging from shellshock to paranoia to mania as the journey wears on.
At its high points, The Aviary becomes a potent allegory for toxic relationships. Messina is particularly effective, his take on the cult leader somehow more insidious for its sincerity and tenderness.
Cullari and Raite, who co-write and co-direct, don’t have anything especially fresh to say, though. Their writing is fine, never exceptional. Their ideas are solid enough, not innovative by any means. The direction works but never excites.
That obviously leads to a palatable if forgettable cinematic experience. Worse though, it draws attention to flaws because there’s not much else to focus on. The film’s twists feel lazy, illogical rather than surprising. The disappointing payoff turns a relatively bland journey into an unfortunate slog.