Combustible Celluloid
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With: Malin Akerman, Lorenza Izzo, Chris Messina, Sandrine Holt
Written by: Chris Cullari, Jennifer Raite
Directed by: Chris Cullari, Jennifer Raite
MPAA Rating: R for language and some violent content
Running Time: 95
Date: 04/29/2022

The Aviary (2022)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Birds Eyes

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This compact, eerie little thriller makes excellent use of its wide-open spaces, flipping them to feel creepy and menacing, and establishing an ever-shifting emotional flow that grips and disquiets.

Jillian (Malin Akerman) and Blair (Lorenza Izzo) set off into the New Mexico desert, having escaped from a cult compound, led by the charismatic, sinister Seth (Chris Messina). The women have enough food to last a couple of days, on foot, until they get to Gallup, New Mexico. They are optimistic, at first, but soon, creepy nightmares, and odd visions begin to unsettle them, and Blair sprains her ankle, slowing them down.

After two days, they arrive at a ghost town, completely off course from their original trek, but they can't seem to find their way again. Seth's "teachings" seem to be emerging from their very cores, and soon, Seth himself seems to be hanging around. Can the women shake off Seth's influence and reach freedom?

Written and directed by Chris Cullari and Jennifer Raite, The Aviary narrows its razor focus on just the three characters, plus a fourth, played by Sandrine Holt, who appears in flashbacks. The descriptions of what has happened to the women, and how they got where they are, is handled deftly in natural-sounding dialogue, and the women's relationship neatly undulates between compassion and helping, to animosity over kept secrets.

Since both women have undergone some kind of mysterious psychological conditioning, there's no way of knowing when either of them is telling the truth, or lying, or under the influence of some strange suggestion. Every behavior is fraught with uncertainty and tension, which builds when Seth begins to appear. Is he really there? Who can see him?

The Aviary ends with an even more diabolical scene: a promotional ad for Seth's "services," which promises to help dismantle the mental, emotional, and spiritual "cages" that people build for themselves. It's a reminder that wolves in sheep's clothing are still a thing to be wary of.

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