Cults and their inner workings have always been deeply fascinating to me, and as entertainment, they almost always make for a compelling watch. American Horror Story: Cult ranks among my favorite seasons of that particular show, and Ti West’s masterful The Sacrament was a fascinating fictional recounting of the Jonestown mass suicide. I wish I could say I felt similarly about Chris Cullari and Jennifer Raite’s The Aviary. The film depicts two female survivors on the run from a malicious cult known as Skylight. Though it has an immaculately laid out setup, The Aviary fails to do anything promising or new, and sadly squanders the talent assembled.
Worried about being followed and lost somewhere deep in the New Mexico desert, Jillian (Malin Akerman, The Final Girls, The Heartbreak Kid) and Blair (Lorenza Izzo, The Green Inferno, Knock Knock) must work together for survival. This includes rationing their food and attempting to overcome haunting visions of the cult’s charismatic, manipulative leader Seth (Chris Messina, Birds of Prey, Sharp Objects). Jillian knows survival skills and is the duo’s de facto navigator, whilst Blair may possess a smoking gun to take down the cult once and for all, when she is not derailing their efforts with her recurring nightmares and sleepwalking. Blair and Jillian are a fun pair to follow as they bicker about Girl Scouts and being directionally challenged, but their schtick wears thin very quickly.
The duo cannot agree on what they will do once they fully reach safety—Jillian would prefer kicking her feet up to read a book or listen to a podcast and just chill, whereas Blair would rather chow down on some burgers before seeking out her revenge. The Aviary though is not a revenge movie, and perhaps it would be an exceedingly more interesting type of film if it was. Billed as a thriller, the whole thing is mainly a series of false starts and fake outs. Hallucinations and cult-flashbacks blend together, seeming to suggest a disconnect between reality and fiction that the audience is never able to fully ascertain.
One cannot help feeling the story never really goes anywhere interesting. With the backdrop of a cult at your fingertips, a laundry list of ideas more exciting than the one executed could be drafted up. When Children of the Corn: Runaway accomplishes the whole cult-survivor-on-the-run angle better, one knows there is an issue. Akerman and Izzo try their damndest, but even their acting prowess is unable to overcome the shortcomings of a hollow script. The ending presents a dark and melodramatic conclusion for both women, yet emerges feeling inconclusive and half-baked. If one desires an effective cult-based feature, look elsewhere. The Aviary is interested in phony thrills and chills over genuine character building, effects of trauma, and true narrative stakes.
The Aviary follows the viewer to the ends of the earth when it debuts in theaters, digital, and On Demand on Friday, April 29th.