Hitchcock really was a freaking genius wasn’t he? I need to know his movies better than I do, so I figured The Birds was a good place to start. Maybe I didn’t need something else freaking me out in the middle of a global pandemic and economic depression, but coming from such a masterful filmmaker, I’ll allow it.
There’s a few things The Birds highlighted for me about some of Hitchcock’s style, things that I’ve noticed in his other films, but really drove home how good he was at what he did. The first is that his films start off being about something else. Something mundane. Something not at all scary. Psycho is the prime example, famously killing off its leading lady less than halfway in. The Birds is similar.
The first half of the film, our leading lady is tracking down our leading man. They shared a connection at a bird store. She follows him to a small coastal town, where he’ll be celebrating his little sister’s birthday, and as a present she’s brought a pair of lovebirds. If you didn’t know what film you were watching, you’d think that’s about as far as the title went. Should be your typical meet cute rom com, yeah? Okay sure, a bird attacks her out in the water, but that’s all a part of how they come together.
It isn’t until about halfway that the birds really do start going ape and attacking all of the townsfolk, and there’s where the other part of his genius comes in. Again going back to the idea of mundane, he can make the simplest things so scary. Showers. Ladders. Windows. Birds. How many people do you know who are scared of birds not as a result of seeing this film? Not a whole lot. As a result of seeing this film? Quite a few more.
There’s a bit where Tippi Hedron is waiting outside the school for class to let out. And the black birds start quietly gathering on the jungle gym. They’re not doing anything. Just sitting there. I thought that was the most terrifying sequence in the film. Not the following one where they’re attacking and the town’s in chaos, but that quiet build. Nothing’s happening at the moment, but you know there’s a storm coming, and you have no idea what that storm will look like because the likes of it hasn’t been seen before. That right there is the mark of the true master of suspense.
Psycho is still and forever will be my favorite Hitchcock film, but I think this watch puts The Birds firmly in number two, with Rear Window just behind. Hmm, maybe I should add that to the pile. Brb.