DIR: Karl Golden
Springwatch this isn’t. Lord knows what Bill Oddie would make of Nikko (Harry Treadaway) – a lonely and obsessive twitcher who plans to kill himself after ticking 500 birds. This was once a quest he pursued with the psychologically unstable Stevie (Emma Booth), whom me met on a suicide website. Something happened between them and after a failed suicide and three months in a mental institution we pick up with Nikko on the day of his mothers funeral, which he ditches to search for the rare American Kestrel with two bird-watching buddies Cameron and Owen (Arthur Darvill, John Hollingworth). “Cor! That is one fit bird” Owen says, looking at the kestrel in a twitchers manual. The tone is set for a quirky little comedy, but it’ll soon be unsettled by the re-emergence of Stevie…
Beautifully shot by DoP Darran Tiernan, Pelican Blood presumes an obsessive sub-culture in the world of bird watching; previously associated by bearded men with beer bellies, such as the aforementioned ex-Goodie. But accompanying the lovely score by Niall Byrne is a foot-stomping mélange of hip contemporary music, and Karl Golden’s loose, hand-held directorial style gives the film an unexpected energy. It subverts expectations at just about every turn, not least in a thrilling encounter with some poachers (which almost takes us into horror territory). Indeed, there is a shadow of impending doom lurking over the film, not least in the intimate sex scenes between Nikko and Stevie – about as far away as you can get from the stereotype you expect in a film about twitchers.
For me the film Pelican Blood most recalled was the underrated (or rather under seen) 2006 dramedy Wristcutters: A Love Story, which saw another disenchanted loser find solace in a knife (“razor blades are for pussies” according to Nikko) after being abandoned by an equally fractured soul. Sure that film was fantasy – set on a road trip through purgatory – but some of the darkly comic tone and off-kilter romance is evident in this picture, albeit with a bleaker and more dangerous edge. One scene sees Stevie helping the boys track down an egg thief and after she throws rocks and beats the defenceless man with a stick she turns on Owen. It’s the first time we see her totally out of control and the second Nikko turns to follow her it’s inevitable that he will fall back into the same trap that resulted in the previous attempt on his life and in his nearly, accidentally, killing his sister. That this is believable is down to the stellar work by the cast, most notably the excellent Harry Treadaway who first impressed in Channel 4’s Cape Wrath.
It slightly derails in the final act when the film takes a darkly violent turn into Romeo & Juliet territory, but the final shot – while predictable – brings the tale full circle in a satisfying way. Boldly original, darkly funny and sometimes shocking, Pelican Blood is a distinctive and unique British film which diverts from our stock-in-trade of kitchen sink miserablism and delivers a sharp, arresting feature that’s sure to become a cult favourite in the years to come.
THE DISC / EXTRAS
Exclusive to DVD, the film looks and sounds great – Tiernan’s photography and that hip soundtrack (featuring Crystal Castles, The Do and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah) certainly reach their potential on a 32″ TV and 5.1 Surround Sound System (although I wish we could have had the chance to see it in cinemas).
There is a single extra entitled ‘The Making of Pelican Blood’ which does what it says on the tin, but does it well. The 20-minute doc takes us behind the scenes on the production of the film and while there is some inevitable back-slapping it feels genuine and the cast and crew have an obvious passion for the project. It does have interesting elements though, as the actors talk about their characters and aspects of the filming that may provide elements to look closer at on a second watch. The quality of the doc (both in image and sound) is not as strong as the feature, but it’s still highly watchable, and it’s rare to see so much attention given to the roles of cinematographer and costume designer, often forgotten or unsung heroes of the filmmaking process. There is also an option for English subtitles.