Good films do not necessarily require big budgets. Many of my favorite films of the past 10 years have been made on shoestring budgets, over weekends in friends’ houses. When it comes down to it, the best films are based in good stories, good acting, and passionate execution. CANARIES certainly comes from a micro-budget world, but it never lets that stand in the way of being a damn fine film.
CANARIES takes place on New Year’s Eve in the Welsh valley of Lower Cwmtwrch (not a typo, if you can believe it). A London DJ assumes that his return will be heralded as a prodigal son’s resurrection and decides to bless these locals with a party like none other. His big ego is met with some hesitation from the local pub owner who will lose his business to the party and the neighbor who is less than enthused by the noise level in their typically quiet village. This has all of the makings for a hilarious night of boozing and hijinks, but all of that gets rudely interrupted when dead bodies fall from the sky and zombie-like men in yellow raincoats start stalking the town.
All of this could get very serious, but CANARIES keeps the laughs coming with some great self-effacing humor. As is the tradition in the isles, these characters can joke around like old chums even when they are battling the onslaught of random attackers as well as battling a pretty lame party. The characters’ chemistry feels natural and never forced.
That chemistry speaks to the truly natural and stellar performances from the cast. The ensemble does not have a weak link among them, which is rare even with massive budgeted films. My only gripe with the cast is that I wanted to see more of the American contingent of the group. There is a small group of government operatives, working on the killer problem abroad and they made me literally laugh out loud in several scenes, yet they were the minor characters. Tsilala Brock absolutely steals her first scene, which is not small feat against her strong costars.
CANARIES is also strengthened by the diversity if its cast, and that fact that this is treated like no big deal. It is rare for a science fiction film to not only acknowledge that non-white people exist, but that populations across the works would be affected by this same pestilence too. And when it comes to checking out what is lurking outside, the two women at the party arm themselves and head out the door, leaving the men behind. This isn’t done as some obligatory display of “girl power,” but rather it just makes sense given who is at the party and what they need to accomplish.
The one weakness of CANARIES that does seem to be a symptom of its budget is the special effects. The few gore gags are well intentioned, but ultimately they are static prosthetics that look quite fake. The bad guys in a raincoat uniform is an honorably inspired choice for those villains (easy to spot! makes them look like a cohesive horde!). I wish that the film had done some more creative solutions to work around showing these distracting effects.
In the grand scheme of things that is my only tiny quibble, and not a reason to avoid CANARIES. In fact, I hope by this point I’ve successfully talked you into seeking out the film, dear reader. It’s damn funny, has some great alien attacks, and keeps the tradition of dark comedy alive.