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When Black Birds Fly
by Jimmy ScreamerClauz

I think the best films are often the most polarizing. I would imagine most creative types from all different mediums would agree that it's better to have half of your audience say they absolutely love your work and the other half violently hating it than have everyone just sort of go “meh... pretty good, I guess.” A prime example of polarizing work is Jimmy ScreamerClauz's 2012 animated festival of insanity Where the Dead Go to Die. You would be hard pressed to find anyone with a dull response to that film. People either rant about their dislike of it or think the project is really something special. Me? I think it's fantastic. It's unlike anything I had previously seen and I dug the hell out of it.

When I heard Jimmy ScreamerClauz was releasing another animated feature I was instantly excited. I was looking forward to seeing anything more from the man behind Where the Dead Go to Die but another twisted computer animated film? I was completely on board. Awaiting the follow-up to such an original film as his last can be an anxious one. I loved ScreamerClauz's last film but would another trip down crazy lane, animated style, yield another fresh experience? Or would this be a unique film that stands on its own two feet? I'm so happy to report that, in my humble opinion, When Black Birds Fly is absolutely the latter. I was blown away by how this new project was able to incorporate what I loved about ScreamerClauz's last feature while still completely being its own force.

When Black Birds Fly takes place in a world quite different from our own. Citizens live in an area known as “Heaven” and everything is controlled by a figure known as Caine (Brandon Slagle). Caine may be seen as a God and called a savior but seems to be more a cult leader. But his cult is an entire society and his abilities in this right appear limitless. The territory he rules is packed with horrific guards strapped with weaponry and equipped with masks. Throughout the area are statues of Caine and instructional words telling the people of Heaven to not think and mindlessly follow their leader, to watch television and have no thoughts of their own. This may conjure up images of one of my all-time favorites They Live but it never feels like a copycat as the context and intentions are very different. These messages don't need to be subliminal for these people to follow. The citizens are so brainwashed and indoctrinated that they seem to see the propaganda has reminders of how great Caine is and why they shouldn't ever go against his word. Even television shows display the evils of straying from Caine's influence and especially being tempted by The Evil One (Devanny Pinn).

An important element that is often a prime focus of the film is the massive wall Caine has put up, separating the folks of Heaven from the area in which The Evil One and her followers dwell. At the start we are introduced to a young couple (J.D. Brown and Erika Smith) who are delighted to get word that they finally will be able to have a child. You see, procreation doesn't work in Heaven the way that it works in this reviewer’s world. It's a process involving colorful worms, a ceremony and... well… you're just going to have to watch it yourself. It's all pretty gross and gnarly and I don't wish to spoil it for anyone.

The couple wind up with a son they name Marius (Victor Bonacore). The worm that became Marius had been stewing for longer than usual without being picked so when he was chosen, the couple was warned he may turn out different than most. Happy to be parents, our joyous couple take the child in and he is soon introduced to their society. School is mostly comprised of more Caine indoctrination and there is little patience for Marius’ inquisitive nature. One day Marius and a local girl named Eden (Erin Russ) decide to do the one thing they have been told time and time again to never do: venture beyond the wall. What follows is a trip to hell and back, literally and figuratively, as the chaotic world that Jimmy ScreamerClauz has created bombards the audience with color, violence, and unbridled madness. I loved every minute of it.

When Black Birds Fly manages to be trippy and completely unpredictable while truly hitting emotional notes in an intense and real way. Don't get me wrong, Where the Dead Go to Die is a wonderful, original project and I love its experimental spirit. I proudly own both the DVD and Blu-Ray and consider it an essential in any shock lover’s collection. That being said, Black Birds is a more focused project. This is not to necessarily say that one film is better than another but simply that they are different and that is a good thing. While Where the Dead Go to Die is fantastic, that doesn't mean it's ever a good idea to just re-hash something and I wouldn't have wanted that for the director's next project. Black Birds doesn't do this and presents a more coherent and plot-driven experience. Fans needn't worry, this new film is packed with the beautiful images and horrific content of ScreamerClauz's previous project. It's trippy, it's weird, and it’s wonderfully unapologetic; I wouldn't want the film to be anything else.

ScremerClauz has clearly been honing his skills as the animation is taken to new levels. I don't just mean quality but also focus and transition. The bleak, largely black and white Heaven only accents the brilliant colors of the other side of the wall and even with the disgusting images we are made to witness, it's all so gorgeous to look at. The direction was so solid and a deft hand was presented in how it was all handled. Even in the uproar of shocking images and wild spirit was a controlled understanding of how it all goes together. The use of music and scene presentation gives it a feeling of authenticity that instantly grabbed my attention.

Black Birds had moments that had me on the edge of my seat, and I forgot that I was watching a work of animation in an odd way. Everything is so far removed from reality that you can never fully forget you're watching an animated film, but some scenes caught me off guard with how much they resonated real emotion. The moment the guards step across the wall and realize what's on the other side begins one of the most intense and jarring moments in film I've seen in quite a while. I found myself caring more than I thought I would about what happens to the various main characters and it all spirals out of control in the best, most satisfying way. It may not be the most professional, articulate way of putting things but I don't care; this film is freaking cool. The use of sound and image in unison is masterful and pays off in a big way.

To go into too many of the specifics would be a misstep as the film is a package deal. Once you know the setup you really just need to experience it for yourself. I will say that religion, totalitarianism, childhood innocence, and lots of messed up imagery shouldn't go together this well, but somehow it does. The voice acting is fantastic and everyone does a great job making the animated characters come to life. I was also delighted to see (or hear, I should say) David Firth’s involvement as the voice of Corvus. David Firth knows creepy animation (Salad Fingers, Crooked Rot, etc) and his attachment to this project makes so much sense.

All in all, I was expecting to like When Black Birds Fly but I'd be lying if I said I didn't find myself surprised by how impressed I was with it. It found new originality in an already unique style and I'm so excited to see more from those involved. You did it, Mr. ScreamerClauz, you followed something fantastic with something phenomenal. Now go make more!

P.J. Griffin, HMS

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