Wednesday, April 27, 2022

The Aviary

Say what you will, but cults have a solid business model. There are low barriers to entry and high barriers to exit. Two women learn that the hard way when they flee from their former cult leader “Seth” through the New Mexico desert in Chris Cullari & Jennifer Raite’s The Aviary, which opens Friday in New York.

Awkwardly, Gillian recruited Blair into the “Skylight” cult and now she wants to get her out. As a senior member, Gillian had a glimpse of Seth’s latest treatment and it scared her back into sanity (or did it?). They made a clean break for it, but as they make their way towards Gallop, Seth is still in their heads—certainly psychologically and perhaps also in fantastical uncanny ways. As a result, they find themselves walking in circles and increasingly distrusting each other.

probably isn’t truly horror, but it has horror-ish elements. Cullari & Raite previously created the entertaining 12 Deadly Days, which a lot of fans unfortunately missed out on. It tries hard, but The Aviary is not as clever nor as much fun. This story might have worked better as a chapter in an anthology. There is a lot of is-it-or-isn’t-it manipulation going on that is intriguing, but it also comes weighted down with endless scenes of the two women trudging and bickering through the sand.

Still, Malin Akerman and Lorenza Izzo deliver a lot of strong paranoid freakouts as Gillian and Blair. You could almost see them playing these characters in a
Godot-like theater piece. Unfortunately, Sandrine Holt is largely wasted as Delilah, a would-be cult whistleblower seen only in flashbacks. Even more grievously, Chris Messina decidedly lacks a menacing presence as the sinister, Mr. Rogers-sweater-wearing Seth.

Cullari & Raite are a genre filmmaking tandem fans should look out for.
The Aviary has its moments, but the execution is a bit too slack. There is some respectable head-spinning stuff here, but it does not reach the level of mind-blowing cult freak-outs, like Faults and Rebirth. Earning only a mild streaming recommendation for those who really dig the subgenre, The Aviary opens Friday (4/29) in New York, at the Cinema Village.