Canaries (2017)

It’s simple, really.

Time travelling aliens are out there, carrying out a long series of incursions that are part of some larger plan.  They’ve sent us a warning about their next attack,  a photo from a small and rather unsuccessful New Year’s Eve party in a tiny Welsh town some months in the future.

Months later, in the tiny town of Lower Cwmtwrch, London DJ Steve Dennis (Craig Russell) has returned to his home town for what was supposed to be a huge publicity party, but only a handful of friends and locals actually showed up.

Before long, a dead body holding a Massai spear has crashed on the roof, a strange rain starts and as abruptly turns off completely, and a group of sinister men clad in yellow rain slickers who have monstrous  foot-long claws begin killing the residents of this sleepy little town…

There is a large and complex mythology behind this film, as we start with a montage of strange events that carry us around the globe.  Somewhere, in a hotel that is secretly owned by the US Department of Defense, a small group of agents watch as the latest “Canary” incident unfolds in Wales.  Wherever the aliens have appeared before, there have been mysterious abductions, lights in the sky, strange weather patterns, mutants and even clones.  We only get a glimpse of this secret war — or would it be more accurate to call it a Cold War? — only enough to learn that it has been going on longer than anyone is willing to admit.

I’ll confess this is one of my favorite parts of the film.  We are given enough detail to give us a solid background for the film, the hints and clues slowly add up throughout the film, giving us an ever larger picture of what is going on –and yet there is still a lot we do not know, a lot of room to expand this story even further — and an ending that lets us know that maybe Peter Stray, the film’s writer/director, isn’t done with this story either.

Most of the film, however, deals with the guests at the party and their attempts to fight the alien menace and hopefully stay alive long enough to escape.  The problem is that the mutant creatures learn quickly, and get better at killing the longer they live.

I was expecting something more along the lines of the Irish horror comedy Grabbers, or Shaun of the Dead, or perhaps Peter Jackson’s raw early splatter comedy, Bad Taste.  However, while I found the film constantly amusing, with quite a few chuckles along the way, I really wouldn’t call it an out and out comedy.  Mind you, that might just be me, or reflect my mood at the time I saw it.

And yes, I do have one minor quibble.  At one point, they realize that the “canaries” avoid the water — for reasons which have a lot to do with their origins.  As the survivors are right next to a stream, wouldn’t the obvious answer be to wade out into it and avoid the mutants that are closing in around them?

This is an incredible effort, for a low-budgeted film made by a first time director.  It makes the most of its tiny budget, is deftly constructed, offers a dense and complex world, nicely staged action and quite a few good moments.  I’ll admit it left me feeling just a bit let down, because it wasn’t as good as the films it has been compared to.  But then, they would be a hard act to follow, anyway. 

Perhaps the best thing I can say about it is that I am definitely interested in whatever Peter Stray makes next, whether he returns to the sinister “canaries” or not.

And maybe we’ll need to keep an eye on the fledgling Welsh film industry.  After all, between this film and the new Nightflyers, they are off to an interesting start.

 

 

 

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