Earthquake Bird

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

Earthquake Bird
dir-scr Wash Westmoreland
prd Georgina Pope, Michael A Pruss, Ann Ruark, Kevin J Walsh
with Alicia Vikander, Riley Keough, Naoki Kobayashi, Jack Huston, Kiki Sukezane, Kazuhiro Muroyama, Yoshiko Sakuma, Akiko Iwase, Ken Yamamura, Kenta Ogawa, Yurino, Crystal Kay
release US 1.Nov.19,
UK 8.Nov.19
19/Japan Netflix 1h47

vikander keough huston
london film fest

vikander, kogayashi, keough
There's a wonderfully disorienting tone to this dramatic thriller, which gives the audience the perspective of a woman who may be losing her mind. Is someone trying to get her, or is she the killer? With Hitchcockian overtones, writer-director Wash Westmoreland crafts a mystery that snakes around in ways that are intriguing, sexy and also rather scary. And it feels even more involving because of its offbeat setting and characters.
In 1989 Tokyo, Lucy (Vikander) is a Swede working as a translator. Her Japanese is fluent, an effort to move far from her home culture. Because she feels like death is following her, especially after a colleague (Sakura) in her string quartet has a freak accident. And now her friend Lily (Keough) has gone missing. As she speaks to the police, she recalls their friendship alongside her new relationship with photographer Teiji (Kobayashi). And as Teiji and Lily begin to get a little too close for Lucy's comfort, she begins to have murderous thoughts.
There's a superb sense that Lucy struggles to open up to people, so in her growing intimacy with Teiji she shares harrowing stories from her childhood that explore her wariness and why she believes she is cursed. The title refers to the echoing chirps of birds following the frequent tremors in Japan. And these of course extend into the various connections Lucy has with those around her. Nothing in her life seems particularly easy.

Vikander has a haunted quality as Lucy, never gloomy but always thoughtful. She feels like an outsider, so interaction is always an effort, but she takes awful things almost takes in stride. (The plot certainly puts her through the wringer.) Kobayashi is also intriguing, a loner without many friends who lives in a messy stack of metal containers. The performance is seductive and skilfully enigmatic. By contrast, Keough brings effortless charm to Lily, an open-hearted woman who speaks and acts on impulse.

Westmoreland has fun throwing the audience off balance with creepy little touches. So the film has us in its grasp long before it shifts into a full-on thriller. In addition to its twisty, involving narrative, this is about how each of us is the star of our own story, never quite taking into consideration the motives and self-doubts of others. It's the kind of movie that gets into our heads and gleefully messes with our perception of both the thriller genre and the world at large.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 10.Oct.19 lff

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall