Review: ‘Canary’

A trendy topic for horror films of late, organ harvesting gets very different treatment in "Canary," which might be called "very different," period.

A trendy topic for horror films of late, organ harvesting gets very different treatment in “Canary,” which might be called “very different,” period. Sci-fi in concept if not in surface conventions, this elliptical tale of a near-future distinguished by commercialized organ redistribution will frustrate some with its refusal to explain itself fully; others may be fascinated to the point of repeat viewings to sort out its myriad characters and half-buried clues. Theatrical prospects look remote, but this second feature by Alejandro Adams (“Around the Bay”) confirms him as an arresting talent well worth perusal by fest and niche ancillary programmers.

Canary Industries is a corporation servicing the needs of a U.S. population that, by now, for whatever environmental or other reasons, requires organ transplants for more than one-third of its citizens. (To clarify “facts” like these, it helps to scrutinize the film’s website,, before viewing.)

In deftly handled, lightly satirical scenes of overlapping Altmanesque cross-talk (all improvised), Canary’s office employees cheerfully discuss PR strategies and one another’s personal lives, seemingly oblivious to their jobs’ ethical complications. The flipside is represented by Carla Pauli as a company agent whose mute, watchful presence seems to reproach everyone else — even as she repossesses organs from clients who’ve fallen behind in their payments. (Pic shares this conceit with the recent “Repo! The Genetic Opera,” sans its gore and grotesquerie.)

Suggesting the range of Canary’s reach in terms of donor-victims and recipients, several scenes scattered throughout are in untranslated Vietnamese, Russian and German. This isn’t Adams’ only alienation tactic — very few characters are seen enough to make a distinguishing impression, and the script refuses tidy contextualizing as much as it avoids conventional action or a neat wrapup. Yet all these ambiguities draw the willing viewer in, mixing gallows humor and nascent horror with immediate slice-of-life realism in staging and performance.



A Canary production. Produced by Marya Murphy. Co-producers, Alejandro Adams, Amanda Davis. Directed, edited by Alejandro Adams. Screenplay, Adams, from an idea by Sammy Samuelson, Michael Samuelson.


Camera (color, DV-to-HD), Adams, Ali Allie; costume designer, Marya Murphy; sound, Alan Chang; assistant director, Allie. Reviewed on DVD, San Francisco, Feb. 25, 2009. (In Cinequest Film Festival, San Jose, Calif.) Running time: 93 MIN.


Carla Pauli, Eli Kramer, Larissa Kasian, Jennifer Latch, Galen Howard, Justin McClure, Marya Murphy, David Menashe, Chloe Latch. (English, Vietnamese, Russian, German dialogue)
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