Birdboy: The Forgotten Children (2015)
Written & Directed by Alberto Vázquez & Pedro Rivero
On an island in a seemingly endless sea, where a factory in the industrial zone exploded, leaving this place a decaying hell, lives Birdboy. Birdboy is a teenager possessed by a demonic force that makes its home in the lighthouse just off the shoreline. Despite his dark nature and dependency on meds to keep this demon at bay, Birdboy is loved by Dinky, a mouse girl from a troubled family. Dinky is a runaway who, with her friends Sandra the rabbit and Little Fox, have pooled their money to try and buy a boat so they can finally escape this place. This animated Spanish-language picture is very dark and most definitely a mature adult-oriented film dealing in themes of mental illness, addiction, and abuse.
Birdboy is a beautifully animated film in a style very distinct from most adult animated dramas, which typically are anime. This style is more reminiscent of the recent PC game Night in the Woods; characters have a cutesy look to them which intentionally contrasts with the bleak and nihilistic themes of the story. A lot of time is spent on building out the world rather than sticking to one clear plot, which means the tale meanders off the path often. There are about three main plots with small moments of divergence, and this sets it apart from most American animation you’ll encounter. It’s clear that the filmmakers, adapting a graphic novel, are more interested in creating a distinct mood and atmosphere. It’s helped along by the decision to draw the world in watercolors which creates an ever-present haze and fluidity.
Some moments will stick with you as you navigate this dystopia. The rats have made the ruins of the industrial zone their scavenging ground and one white rat is teaching his son how to look for copper that they can turn in for coins. They come across a brown rat who claims they are in his territory and a fight breaks out against the adults. The violence here is constant, and we see copper pipes slamming down on skulls and limbs. These men’s children watch, then look at each other, eyes downturned and erupt into their battle, seemingly out of obligation. The result is two people left for dead, skulls caved in and bodies limp across the trash.
This is not a world based on the rules of our reality. Here a human wearing a rat costume can pose as the second husband of a mouse and her daughter. They can have a son who is a dog with a luchador head and another child who is a talking alarm clock that gets robot legs installed. This is a place where a pig fisherman is forced to feed his invalid mother’s drug addiction, or her soul emerges from her nose as a giant rancorous spider. There are beauty and ugliness on display throughout the picture, and the tension created therein is what makes Birdboy such a hypnotic film.
The harsh nature of Birdboy will make this picture unappealing to a pretty broad audience, but for the niche group of people, like myself, who enjoy challenging dark subject matter its a rewarding experience. These are essentially interwoven short stories that aren’t concerned with act structures or resolution. That can be frustrating for audiences that want closure. When you reach end Birdboy, there is no happy ending, and lots of questions linger. But that aspect is what makes the picture so powerful and resonate long after the credits roll.