Unhappy Birthday (2011)

Unhappy Birthday is slow, awkward and very strange. It features some decent moments and some solid direction, but the plot and characters are so mismanaged it becomes a chore to watch. Not utterly abysmal, but far from great.

It is Sadie’s (Christina De Vallee) birthday and she’s pregnant. Rick (David Paisley) is taking her on a trip to the island of Amen, where a tiny community of serious weirdoes live. Coming along for the ride is their excitable friend Danny (Jonathan Keane), whose presence on this little trip is never really explained… until he starts fucking Rick, that is…

It takes nearly forty minutes for the storyline to actually kick in, and you finally understand why Sadie has come to the island; there is a twisted plot involving her finding her long-lost sister and the secret behind her recurring drowning nightmares. Some secrets, however, are better left buried, and Sadie soon finds out why her dead mother was desperate to get her off the island… and why she should’ve never come back.

Unhappy Birthday certainly has atmosphere, partially because of Mark Harriott and Mike Matthews’ solid directing, which lingers menacingly on everyday objects, giving them a sickly sense of threat. This is hugely bolstered by Lin Sangster’s excellent sound work. Sangster’s grating, disturbing score deliberately unsettles and distracts, ensuring you’re constantly unnerved by the quiet foreboding hidden in every shot.

What Unhappy Birthday has in atmosphere, it completely lacks in character. Despite offering decent performances from all involved, the characters are all ridiculous and unsympathetic and you’re more likely to relate to the crazy islanders than the trio of sex-mad, craven scumbags. The “outsiders” behaviour towards others is abhorrent and their treatment of their kindly host is absolutely disgusting, especially considering Corrine (Jill Riddiford) is Sadie’s long lost sister! Corinne tells Sadie their mother was an island outcast because “She put her carnal love before the word of God”, so Sadie decides to have a threesome in the house! I mean, couldn’t it have waited? All three of them deserve to die and it sadly makes for tiresome watching.

Unhappy Birthday is certainly unique and is pock-marked with decent scenes – from an in-car fumigation to every scene featuring Jill Riddiford (she is exceptional throughout), but the decent direction, great score and occasional moment of genius cannot make up for Unhappy Birthday’s failings. Unhappy Birthday is not awful, but it’s also not worth watching.

Rating: ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆

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