28th Nov2017

‘Canaries’ Review

by Philip Rogers

Stars: Craig Russell, Robert Pugh, Hannah Daniel, Sheena Bhattessa, Richard Mylan, Kai Owen, Aled Pugh, Robert Boulter, Kevin McCurdy, Steve Meo, Dominique Dauwe, Marc Rhys, Tsilala Brock, Sophie Melville, Richard Corgan | Written and Directed by Peter Stray


DJ Steve Dennis (Craig Russell) decides to return home to the small town of Cwmtwrch, Wales to hold a New Year’s Eve Party, with the hope of getting some new investors interested in his new business venture. Unfortunately for Steve and his guests, aliens have decided to invade, leaving them no choice but to defend themselves against the invaders.

Canaries has a rather complicated plot, with the various events crossing over several decades, which involves abductions, time travel, killer aliens and several bodies falling from the sky. It seems an ambitious project with the low budget, but as the events unfold the various seams of the plot come nicely together, even though some questions are deliberately left unanswered.

The film shows action taking place around the world with UFO abductions and sightings taking place in Vietnam, Washington DC and Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, which may seem familiar to some as this was where the original Jaws (1975) was filmed. This all helps to give the film a bigger feel, as the locations are a distinct contrast to the small street town in Wales where most of the action takes place.

Choosing a small street village town in Wales may seem an unusual choice to create an alien invasion film, but the secluded setting of the location works to the films advantage. Like Edgar Wright’s The Worlds End (2013) there is a claustrophobic feel to the town, giving the characters a sense of isolation from the outside world during the invasion. Director Peter Stray utilises the rural location perfectly to consistently build up the suspense.

The action in Wales revolves around the films’ anti-hero Steve Dennis who by his own admission is not a very nice person, due to with his self-absorbed laddish personality. We see this early in the film as he unsuccessfully attempts to sneak out unnoticed following a one-night stand, which he makes worse when his pre-planned speech is instantly recognised as a quote from The Terminator. Steve continues to talk before really thinking, which is reflected throughout the film. Non-more so than on his pre-recorded radio station which we are treated to excerpts in the background during the film, proving that feminism is not one of his strengths.

Although Steve may be the main antagonist, the heroism comes from the women in the film with Agnes D (Hannah Daniel) and Sunita (Sheena Bhattessa), who are the first volunteer to take on the danger, without much of a protest from the men. It is a reflection of how the modern world is changing. Chivalry may be dead, but in a world where the women can do a job as well, who cares.

The most impressive performance in Canaries for me is Aled Pugh, he steals the film in the second half as Ryan with some excellent comical timing that had me constantly laughing. His quick lack of empathy for those who are killed around him, his dry humour and Wing Chung fighting style really helps to elevate the second half of the film.

There are some great characters, although with the pace of the film and so much going on some of the characters feel under developed, with their demise occurring not long after they are really introduced. One character I would like to have seen more of is Steven Meo as Huw, who I felt may have been underused in the film. It was a shame because I felt his character could have offered further comedy, even though his poo emoji t-shirt will inevitably age the film in a few years as we look back in disbelief at another terrible passing trend.

Following a brilliantly tense transformation phase at the start of the film where an abducted fisherman is turned into an alien host, the aliens worked more effectively when they were not fully identifiable. Seeing them attack from the shadows and not fully exposed gave them a more ominous feel, especially with the bright yellow waterproof jackets and their claw like talons which created a striking visual.

Canaries is an impressive debut feature from the films writer and director Peter Stray and although it may not be perfect, the natural blend of horror, sci fi and comedy is brilliantly entertaining. As the film closes it creates as many new questions as it answers, setting it up for a possible sequel. Hopefully if the film gains enough interest we could be heading back to Wales with a bigger budget and with the foundations already set I am intrigued to see how Peter could continue the story this up in the future.

**** 4/5


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