Everybody needs somebody to love…
While Earthquake Bird borrows from some other familiar stories, it still makes for a sad a creepy little thriller about going down the rabbit hole of romantic obsession and the guilt that can stem from relationships of all types going horribly wrong.
Lucy Fly (Alicia Vikander) is an enigmatic ex-pat haunted by a painful past that enters into an intense relationship with Teiji (Naoki Kobayashi), a handsome yet similarly troubled local photographer. Lucy’s imperturbable exterior begins to crack when a naive newcomer, Lily Bridges (Riley Keough), becomes entangled in their lives and ends up missing – suspected dead.
While the comparisons to delicious trashy films like Fatal Attraction & Single While Female are easy and apt, there’s something a little more here as it really takes a look at not only obsessions but how guilt can truly mess with your mind.
Writer/Director Wash Westmoreland adapts the book from Susanna Jones with real respect and care because even though this film is lead by westerners it has a distinctly measured and deliberate feel to it that is only found in Japanese cinema. It’s strong visually and Westmoreland allows for the intensity of the subject material to come out from a visual stand point.
While we’ll grant that there are moments in the script that are just a little too slight and ambiguous at times, it’s also nice to have films available at the click of a button that don’t feel the need to hit us over the head with exposition either. Outside of the Netflix system this is a kind of story that just would never get a chance to be told as it subtly navigates elements of obsession, romance and grief all in an attractive backdrop of modern Japan. It’s an English language movie with foreign pacing and sensibilities and that’s not a bad thing as it puts into our lead characters head which is slowly but surely unravelling from the inside out and while it could be interpreted as ‘flat’ it’s actually just very deliberate subtlety. It’s less powerful to scream and shout how you can’t love and accept people into your life due to events of your past, but when you can convey it in a single pained look to the camera, that’s where the real money is.
Alicia Vikander is a bonifide movie star and anyone who argues that is just nuts. She commands the screen with a real frenetic and uncertain energy as we know her character is a little damaged but we get invested with this somewhat reserved character finding a genuine connection with another human being because she’s so obviously been resisting it for so very long. While Riley Keough doesn’t get enough to do other than playing the ‘other’ woman as Lily, Naoki Kobayashi as Teiji is a genuine discovery with only a handful of credits to his name but some genuine movie star charisma to burn and Jack Huston is his usual stalwart self bouncing between all the characters.
When it comes down to it, Earthquake Bird is all about Alicia Vikander as she gets to very deliberately and compellingly chew the scenery as a woman who has be wronged in one way or another throughout her entire life and can’t shake the stigma of not being deserving of any kind of genuine love from other people in her life. As it plays in the trashy thriller tropes it gives us real character driven meat of how broken people can be when trying to relate to other people.