29 December 2004 | The_Void
Seaside gulls go mental in Hitchcock's macabre masterpiece!
Despite spending most of his career within the realms of the thriller genre, Alfred Hitchcock hasn't restricted himself where variation is concerned. Most of his best work represents a different type of thriller, and The Birds is no different. It is often said that Psycho is Hitchcock's first foray into the horror side of the thriller, and it is indeed; but it's not the complete horror film that The Birds is. Often cited as an obvious influence for Night of the Living Dead, The Birds follows Melanie Daniels as she travels to the seaside town of Bodega Bay with a pair of lovebirds for Mitch Brenner, an eligible bachelor that she met in a pet shop in San Francisco. However, while there the birds of the coastal town begin to attack the residents and so begins a terrifying tale of man's feathered friends waging a war against humanity...
It could be said that the plot of The Birds is ridiculous, and it is. The idea of birds, a type of animal that isn't aggressive, attacking humans despite living with us for millions of years is preposterous and is never likely to happen. However; it is here where the film's horror potency lies. Birds live with us in harmony; we're so used to them that for the most part we don't even realise that they're there, and the idea of something that we don't notice suddenly becoming malicious is truly terrifying. Especially when that something is unstoppable, as the birds are portrayed as being in this film. The fact that the birds' motive is never really explained only serves in making it more terrifying, as it would appear that somewhere along the line they've just decided to attack. Of course, the film could be interpreted as having Melanie's arrival, or the presence of the lovebirds as the cause for it all; but we don't really know. This bounds the film in reality as if there was a reason given, it might be improbable; but there's no true reason given (although there are several theories), so it can't be improbable!
The first forty minutes of the film feature hardly any - if any - horror at all. Hitchcock spends this part of the movie developing the characters and installing their situation in the viewers' minds, so that when the horror does finally come along, it has a definite potency that it would not have had otherwise. In fact, at first the birds themselves come across as a co-star in their own movie as there are brief references towards them, but they never get their full dues. However, once the horror does start, it comes thick and fast. Hitchcock, the master craftsman as always, uses his famous montage effects and never really shows you anything; but because you're being bombarded with so many different shots, you'd never realise it. Many people have tried to copy this technique, but most have failed. Hitchcock, however, has it down to an art and this is maybe the film that shows off that talent the best. There are numerous moments of suspense as well, many of which are truly nail biting. We see the birds amassing and ready to strike - but they don't. And this is much more frightening than showing an attack from the off. Hitchcock knows this. The final thirty minutes of The Birds is perhaps the most thrilling of his entire oeuvre. First, Hitchcock gives us an intriguing situation where numerous inhabitants of the town give their views on the events, and also explains the birds' situation with humans, even giving the audience an angle of expertise from an ornithologist's point of view. He then follows it up with a truly breathtaking sequence of horror that hasn't been matched since for relentless shock value.
Hitchcock has made many great films, and this certainly stands up as one of them. Here, Hitchcock gives a lesson in film directing and creates a truly macabre piece of work in the process. I dread to think what the state of cinema would have been if Hitchcock had never picked up a camera, but luckily for us; he most certainly did.