There’s nothing scarier than birds, I guess. I’ve never been entirely convinced by the creations of Alfred Hitchcock, arguable powerhouses upon their initial release, but the products themselves do very little for me. Vertigo and Rear Window are the high points, and everything else I’ve seen of him has elicited little in the way of memorability. You can accept his influence, but deny his contemporary achievements, I think that’s fair enough. The Birds seems to be a model of such a statement, a film regarded very highly indeed by those that churn out essays of text on the invention of horror, but few of those I hang around with have actually seen The Birds.
I can appreciate this Hitchcockian piece far more than the primitive innovation of Psycho or the thrilling, mismatched tension of North by Northwest. For all its faults and flimsy subject matter, The Birds is rather good. Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor showcase some excellent chemistry, performers that I’d had little experience with leave tremendous marks throughout this one. The egalitarian and chic style attached to Hedren’s performance as Melanie Daniels is one that captures the socialite lifestyle, but blends it with a go-getting, modernised attitude. She’s not a damsel in distress, needing to be rescued at every available opportunity, but she doesn’t take charge either. Nobody takes charge, I think that’s the key to The Birds, the state of panic mixed with a regressive stance of disbelief leads to nobody taking charge, and the carnage is paced incredibly well by Hitchcock.
A couple of shot compositions and camera pans do highlight Hitchcock’s eye for the craft, something I’d never doubted but not been wholly convinced by. Here, combining well-perceived set design and solid characters who are in complete opposition of one another, The Birds thrives rather frequently. Having sparrows and pigeons shoot out of your fireplace like the letters in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is a horrifying experience. It happened to me once, not multiple birds, just one. I had the luxury of not being immediately attacked by the crow, a joy the characters throughout this film do not have. Opening seconds that feel like slight foreshadowing horror shows, there are more than a few moments throughout that linger on the mind hours after finishing with it.
The Birds is a frankly superb experience, a small town thrown into a state of sudden panic as the birds start to turn against them. It’s an odd premise, one that, admittedly, I was mocking in the first few moments, but I should’ve had much more faith in the direction and storytelling abilities of Hitchcock. The CGI has dated ever so poorly, but brief moments can be overlooked for the tension that this cast bring to the screen, and the dangers they find in animals that, in reality, probably don’t kill all too many people. I’m no ornithologist, but I’ve yet to have an encounter with a seagull that has left me with permanent damage.