“You’re bloody neolithic!” Grace (Rebecca Palmer) shouts at her husband Abel (Eoin Slattery) in Dan Gitsham and Sophie Mair’s short film The Thing That Ate The Birds. Abel barely responds – and that is precisely the problem between this couple who are no longer even sharing a bed, and whose other communications are practically non-existent. Abel is gruff, dour, unforthcoming and extremely private. “Stop sniffing around me, lad,” he tells his younger colleague Jake (Lewis Mackinnon) who has had the audacity to ask if his boss is alright. A head gamekeeper, Abel is deeply repressed, all action and no talk. He is a practical man, and a hunter, who walks his beat on the North Yorkshire Moors with a shotgun slung over his shoulder, and is swift to use it when necessary. Yet he does have feelings, which, like the bile in his belly, must occasionally out.
If Abel is neolithic, then his problems are being compounded by another presence that matches his neanderthal attitude and predatory impulses. For something is ruthlessly reducing the bird population on Abel’s turf. “It’s killing for kicks,” observes Jake – and as Abel confronts the monstrous Thing of the title (performed by James Swanton), which resembles the primal anthropoid creatures from Neil Marshall’s The Descent (2005) or Xavier Gens’ Cold Skin (2017), it will become hard to disentangle what is transpiring out on the moors and back closer to home.
Gitsham and Mair have crafted an economic, ambiguous story, part creature feature, part psychodrama, where the uncanny ultimately makes its way to the human characters’ domestic interiors, and where the unspeakable inevitably finds violent expression. For this monstrous myth of vengeful home invasion plays out its single story via parallel, converging narratives. In other words, it kills two birds with one stone, and leaves the viewer to reconstruct what has happened to and between this isolated, unhappy couple, torn apart as much by Abel’s suppressed emotions as by an atavistic entity.
strap: Dan Gitsham and Sophie Mair’s ambiguous horror short has a primitive predator invading a couple’s dysfunctional home
© Anton Bitel