Runtime: 96 minutes
Writer/Directors: Chris Cullari & Jennifer Raite
Stars: Malin Akerman, Lorenza Izzo, Chris Messina, Sandrine Holt
By Bianca Garner
We’re in the middle of nowhere with two women who seem to be fleeing somewhere and someone, as quickly as possible. The two women seem to know each other but they’re not particularly close. It’s as if their fates have been entwined because of their circumstances. The older of the two, Jillian (Malin Akerman) has a sense of authority to her. She’s clearly the one who has planned their escape, and is the most prepared and experienced for their journey in the barren landscape of the New Mexico desert. Blair (Lorenzo Izzo) on the other hand, is relying heavily on Jillian, placing all of her trust into the other woman. Quickly, we discover the reason for their night-time flight, they’re fleeing a cult known as “Skylight” which is run by the mysterious and ominous, Seth (Chris Messina).
As Jillian and Blair begin their perilous journey towards freedom, they begin to feel the looming threat of Seth hanging over them. The years of psychological abuse and mental torture have left their mark on both of them. Blair seems to succumb quicker to paranoia, believing that Seth is following them. Although, she may seem like she has more control and appears more capable of handling everything, Jillian is also harbouring her own deeply troubled past and is suffering from her own mental breakdown. When, the pair become lost in the desert…things quickly get out of hand.
“There’s many aspects of the film to enjoy. As a psychological thriller and character study, the film delivers on its promise. The strength of the picture lies in the hands of the two leading actresses, Akerman and Izzo. “
“The Aviary” is the first feature film from directors Chris Cullari & Jennifer Raite. It’s a simple premise but exploring big ideas and themes. There’s something oddly fascinating about the exploration of cults. Why do seemingly ordinary people like Jillian and Blair become drawn into the controlling world of a cult and fall victim to the brutality of a cult leader? Seth’s cult feels very contemporary, and when we see him in flashbacks he almost looks like he’s the head of some technological company, dressed in a knitted sweater and slacks. As Cullari explained in an interview with Daily Dead, the reason they made “Skylight” appear so contemporary was “because we live in a society of influencers and followers, literally. Everything has the potential to turn into a cult now.”
There’s many aspects of the film to enjoy. As a psychological thriller and character study, the film delivers on its promise. The strength of the picture lies in the hands of the two leading actresses, Akerman and Izzo. Both actresses give very convincing portrayals of deeply troubled women who have been broken down by the years of mental torture they have endured. Akerman’s role is far more developed and she seems to be the character that has more to do in the story. Blair seems less developed and at times, Izzo’s performance feels a little melodramatic. Some of the fault lies with the dialogue which seems a little too on the nose, and towards the film’s final act, it becomes quite predictable, with a twist ending that feels very underwhelming.
Messina delivers a solid performance as the sinister cult leader. However, there doesn’t feel like enough background given to his character or the cult. Messina plays Seth as this quiet, reserved and almost subdued man. It’s a far cry from other cult leaders both real and fictional that we’ve seen on the big-screen before. It’s interesting to see a cult leader like Seth and a contemporary cult appear in a film but we sadly don’t get enough time devoted to exploring the backstory of Skylight. However, the film does explore the toxic effects of masculinity and the control that exists between a male and female. The deep, long-lasting effects of manipulation are something that resonates here and at times the film leaves you feel deeply unsettled and uneased.
“The Aviary” is a very good picture but needed to incorporate more horror and explore its characters background a little more, in order to make it become a ‘great’ picture. There’s definitely a lot here to enjoy, and it’s worth seeking out for the excellent performances by Akerman and Izzo. I just wish I could have seen them being given more to do in this film.
In Theaters, on Digital, and On Demand April 29, 2022
Photo credit: Saban Films