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Delving into the Depths: Birdeater's Filmmakers and Stars Examine Toxic Relationships, Complacency, and Distorted Realities

BY MO MOSHATY, March 10, 2024

Story creators and directors Jack Clark and Jim Weir join stars Shabana Azeez and Mackenzie Fearnley as they dive deep into the complexities of toxic dynamics. 

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Birdeater courageously confronts triggering subject matter, delving into the intricacies of a central controlling and emotionally abusive relationship. However, it's vital to recognize that the film's creators, writers, and directors, Jack Clark and Jim Weir, approached this delicate topic with the utmost care and consideration. With skillful aplomb, they navigated Irene and Louis' tumultuous world, laden with danger and secrets, ensuring a nuanced portrayal that respects the gravity of the subject matter.

 

Mo Moshaty: Has inviting your fiancée to your stag do ever gone right?

Jack Clark, writer-director: The drama was inherent in our initial concept. We began with the couple but soon realized the potential in setting and staging their relationship. It opened up numerous possibilities for exploring how bad things could get. How? How could that go well or how else do you know how many options they gave us for how bad it could get, you know? And then they gave us a whole kind of campus to work from.

Jim Weir, writer-director: Well, in Australia, it's kind of like when you send someone into the Outback or wilderness. There's this vibe where you sort of take on a different persona, you know? You become someone you can't be back in the city or suburbs. We were intrigued by what that transformation might look like.

MM: A little transformative debauchery. So, Shabana and Mackenzie, when you first read the script, what were your thoughts on your character arcs? They're pretty expansive. At the beginning of the film, Irene is incredibly devoted and protective of Louis, but a bit sheltered.  

 

Shabana Azeez, lead actor: When I first read the script, I actually thought I was auditioning for Grace because it seemed like the obvious choice for me, I'm not used to Brown girls in roles like this. Then I realized my mistake and had to go back, which was funny. As we continued, it dawned on me that this role was a departure from anything I'd seen someone like me do before. It was a bit overwhelming. I didn't fully grasp the significance until I was deeply immersed in it. The political undertones also made me approach it from that perspective. But Irene, she's a piece of the puzzle, you know? I only truly connected with her after diving deep into the movie's world and story.

Mackenzie Fearnley, lead actor: It was pretty obvious (Louie) wasn't a great guy, so we did a lot of research into the nature of coercive control relationships. And then, of course, relying on the insights of the cast, especially Shabana. It was a very collaborative effort. We were fortunate to have plenty of pre-production time, which was great.

SA: I feel like working together was really useful for me because, you know, each character is important, but the dynamic between them is what really matters. So, knowing where you were at helped me figure out my own character's journey.

MM: It's a tough role, you know, dealing with suggestive gaslighting, which is mentally taxing, especially for a character already in turmoil. Did you draw inspiration from any particular characters or films to get into that mindset?

MF: Yeah, I mean, I had to dive into quite a bit of research. A couple of great books, like 'Look What You Made Me Do,' were really helpful. Jack and Jim were also amazing, giving us extensive listening homework and recommending certain films. It was taxing, for sure. I had to approach it with a lot of respect. But having such a great ensemble cast and crew made the process a lot better. I could rely on them to pull me out of that headspace once the tools were down for the day.

MM: Outside of Irene and Louie's bubble we start to create an ensemble where we meet Sam, Murph, Charlie and his fiancée Grace and the chaotic Dylan, played so deftly by Ben Hunter. We all know a Dylan, who just knows too much, and says too much, with terrible timing. He's quite a catalyst for Louie. Was there anything that inspired you to create his character?

JC: Well, it's about juxtaposing his honesty against Louis, finding a character who's always saying inappropriate things, always too loud, very inappropriate. Starting the film with him being a grating presence, you're like, 'Oh God, I can't wait to get away from him.' Then, when we see how closed off Irene and Louie's relationship is, we realize Dylan has the potential to blow that open in a public setting. That's his tool. He becomes self-aware through the plot that he has the potential to draw pointed questions about their dynamic. Does he want to? Does he understand the extent of any abuse? Does he even care? It doesn't really matter. His purpose is to reveal the performances Louie puts on, whether with Irene or his friends. We never really see Louie by himself until the very end, so Dylan serves as a conduit to probe beneath that performance.

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MM: As the bottom drops out and the cracks begin to show at that disturbing dinner and Louis' grand scheme, things take a turn for the worst and the feral nature erupts. For Louie it's a truly transcendent scene because you've been trying so hard to be this calculating person, only to completely break apart. How transformative was that moment for you? 

MF: Well, it's all about control, isn't it? Especially for men in these situations. They crave control over their partners, and over social situations. So, building a kind of mental map of every situation throughout the night, and feeling in control, made things easier. But when the rug was pulled out from underneath him, he became just a passenger for the rest of the night. It was more about relinquishing that control he'd built and, for the only time in the film, handing himself over to someone else's whim, which, obviously, was his worst nightmare.

 

JW: Yeah, I like that lack of control, we incorporated it into all the formal elements too. We set up rules for what we could do with the camera in the first half of the movie, then totally broke them in the second half. Editing became more kinetic, almost insane, and confusing. The music grew more intense. Everything spiraled out of control as Louie did, giving that feeling of a real descent.

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MM: For Shabana, once it becomes public knowledge what Louis is doing to Irene, it's like a wake-up call. Initially, you're defensive about it, but your friend Sam really tries to shake you out of it. It's a big moment for your character, realizing where you've lost control, where you've lost agency. How did reading that in the script make you feel, transitioning from compliance to taking control?

SA: Yeah, I mean, it's like they say, it takes an average of seven tries to leave a situation like this, right? So, the movie ends in whatever way, but for her, it's definitely a ping-pong. She can't have a logical trajectory, that's based on solid information. When you're in a situation like this, your sense of reality gets so distorted. You don't know what's true anymore. If your feelings contradict logic, it's confusing. That cognitive dissonance kicks in, and navigating it is tough. Even within a single scene, she's still ping-ponging, like, 'Do I listen? Do I not? What's good for me?' Because you've been told for years you don't know what's good for you. It's just so confusing, so many elements. When I read it, I felt... scattered, you know? Because it's not as simple as people think.

JC: And that scene with Sam, that was one we had a lot of conversations about. We didn't want it to be too simple or logical, leaving the audience thinking Irene's on the upswing because she has Sam on her side. We wanted to convey just how overwhelming that would be for her. How conscious was she of her confession at dinner? Playing with that, and then having this swarm of people come crowd around you, telling you what your next steps should be when you're just trying to process your abuse—it's such an overwhelming thing for anybody to deal with. So we knew it wasn't going to be simple.

MF: On that note, we've laid out a really abusive relationship, which can be a triggering situation. How have you both been handling any potential backlash or criticism about the writing or the screening, given the intense subject matter and the research you've done?

SA: Oh yes! The idea of the character is not the character. I think bringing yourself to it is key. Embrace your identity. The character should reflect all of you.

About Birdeater - 

A bride-to-be is invited to her fiancé's bachelor party, but when uncomfortable details of their relationship are exposed, the night takes a feral turn.

Starring: Mackenzie Fearnley, Shabana Azeez, Ben Hunter, Jack Bannister, Clementine Anderson, Alfie Gledhill, Harley Wilson and Caroline McQuade

Written and Directed by Jim Weir and Jack Clark

Produced by Ulysses Oliver and Stephanie Troost

Sound Department: Clifford McBride, Julian Oliver, Matt Perrott, John Tompkins

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Mo Moshaty is a horror writer, lecturer and producer. As a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist and life long horror fan, Mo has lectured with Prairie View A&M Film & TV Program as a Keynote, BAFSS Horror Studies Sig  and The University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom. Mo has partnered with horror giant, Shudder Channel, to co-produce the 13 Minutes of Horror Film Festival 2021 and 2022 with Nyx Horror Collective and her literary work "Love the Sinner" was published with Brigid's Gate Press in July of 2023 and her two volume collection, "Clairviolence: Tales of Tarot and Torment Vol. One and Two" will be published with Spooky House Press in the Spring of 2024

Mo is the creator and Editor-in-Chief of NightTide Magazine

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