Feathered friends falling from the sky rep a nightmare for the residents of Spanish suburbia in “Dead Birds,” a “Virgin Suicides”-inspired satire from debut tandem Guillermo and Jorge Sempere that starts out strong, but struggles to stay aloft as the ideas start to run out. In its exploration of the dangers in the emptiness of supposedly ideal suburban lives, pic smartly negotiates the tightrope between the credible and the grotesque and delivers some darkly comic moments, with the result a mostly engaging item that lacks only dramatic punch. “Birds” could perch at fests, but looks unlikely to fly offshore.
Berta (Silvia Marso) discovers a dead sparrow in the road, an extremely distressing event for her given the monotony of her existence. She rushes home to tell the awful news to hubby Esteban (Alberto Jimenez) and kids Oliver (Samuel Viyuela Gonzalez) and Lucia (Andrea Blasco Sierra), forbidding the kids from ever setting foot in that road again. Oliver, a rebel, naturally, heads off to pick up the dead bird and take it home.
Down the road, their Argentinean neighbors, shambling, henpecked seaweed importer Hugo (Eduardo Blanco) and energetic Monica (Claudia Fontan) are living a fiction. Lacking money but wishing to give the right impression, they have told everyone their daughter Greta (Ines Aldea) is spending the summer studying English in New York, but she is actually holed up at home.
Another dead bird falls out of the sky. A pair of teenage girls take up residence nearby: Esteban and Hugo observe them like naughty schoolboys, while inside Berta secretly drinks, smokes, and feeds pills to the insomniac Lucia. Oliver and Hugo, who are skeptical about the lives they have been made to lead, set about to discover why the birds are falling.
The ennui enveloping these sheltered, sterile lives in their suburban housing development and deadening supermarket corridors — meaningless conversations next to swimming pools, lack of sexual desire — is well rendered, largely due to fine production design by vet Gil Parrondo. But the script does nothing new with its litany of turn-of-millennium social ills — bulimia, obsession with healthy eating, sleeping pills. Where the dullness of the characters is part of the film’s meaning, after the hour mark, the script delivers little we didn’t know before.
Humor is mostly designed to provoke painful winces of recognition. Ever-sparky but joyless, Berta gets most of the best lines, as when she refuses Esteban’s request for sex with the comment that they’d “only sweat.” The cheesy, quaint-sounding score sounds at odds with the pic’s pretensions to the contempo. Lighting is slightly dulled throughout, intensifying the stifling mood.