Spy vs. Spy in KILLBIRD

2019 Dances With Films World Premiere

As the Canadian production Killbird (2019) begins, a nature photographer’s car breaks down in the Oregon woods. When Taylor Crane (Elysia Rotaru) knocks on a cabin door, she’s met with suspicion by Riad Bishara (Stephen Lobo), an intense looking, bearded recluse. Directed by Joe Zanetti from a screenplay written with co-producer Jessi Thind, Killbrid is notable for its sharp dialogue and the action sequences that explode when the tension between the antagonists reaches the breaking point.

Closed off from the outside world in his bunker (filmed in Pitt Meadows, B.C.), Riad rambles on like Mel Gibson’s character in Conspiracy Theory (1997). There’s an internal logic to Riad’s argument and some of his ideas are supported by facts including revelations about CIA black sites and the lingering questions around 9/11. Riad describes himself as “a brown guy” and the attempted “Muslim ban” by the far right Trump Administration is, of course, only too real. Then again, was Riad’s brother really murdered by government agents and is the lone wolf’s seeming paranoia otherwise justified? They’re out to get him as well, he believes, and is Taylor working for them?

Adrienne Barbeau in

Taylor has no apparent interest in debating his politics, repeating that she only wants to call a mechanic or tow truck. She appears to be what she says she is, an innocent bird watcher documenting her observations. Regardless of the truth of what he’s saying, Riad’s delivery is compelling. The sexual tension amps up and the question becomes “will they or won’t they?” Some of that tension gets channeled into classic “woman in peril” moments where the stunning Rotaru is tied up in scenes reminiscent of Diana Rigg as Emma Peel in the classic British television show The Avengers. Watching Killbird, Rotaru also reminded me of the sci-fi heroine Adrienne Barbeau who was known to fight her way out of dicey situations in movies like Escape from New York (1981) and Swamp Thing (1982). There are also nods to Alfred Hitchcock. In Psycho (1960), Janet Leigh’s character is named Marion Crane, a woman with a secret seeking refuge. There are numerous bird references in that film and of course in the The Birds (1963), itself.

At Hollywood’s Chinese Theatre Q&A with Dances’ Robert Mellette, Zanetti said, “I wrote it with a guy [Jessi Thind] who had this great database of conspiracy and I wanted to update it and make it even more unsettling, taking from Edward Snowden and the Patriot Act. Then, once I started going down the rabbit hole of these programs like PRISM that are all real, I thought all I’d have to do is extrapolate a little bit and this becomes really scary.” He and producer William Carne lined up financing at the European Film Market conference which resulted in a twelve day shoot in July 2018. [As Zanetti later told me, investors were excited by the subject matter even though they usually have little interest in North American indies] “Stephen Lobo was the first to come onboard and he loved the material, loved the transition” of the character … The thing that Alicia did that was mind blowing, she did this ‘chemistry test’ on a Skype call. What she did was just visceral right away.”

Keeping the film watchable at its most claustrophobic was critical. “That was the biggest struggle because we had a lot that was just two hander … We had rehearsals where we were going through ways we could make this cabin location dynamic and where we wanted to emphasize certain angles on the cabin as we slowly reveal it to the viewer.” As for what’s next for the filmmakers, it was kept open for a sequel or prequel while a supernatural thriller, a revenge thriller and a crypto thriller are also in the works. Though no one in the cast or crew is an active birder, the subject was painstakingly researched and most importantly, no birds were harmed during filming.

Additional cast: Tahmoh Penikett, Aaron Douglas, Jesse Inocalla, Reese Alexander, Momona Komagata, Hans Potter, Sarah Lindsay.

Armourer, Stunt Coordinator

Jon Funk

Music by

Rob Teehan

Cinematography by

Gabriel Medina

Film Editing by

Justin Li

Production Design by

Jamie Chrest

Costume Design by

Sadife Bakar Carne

Makeup Department

Skye Markham