The Birthday begins with a timid young man called Norman Forrester (Corey Feldman) placed into a situation that would fill most young straight men with trepidation, if not outright fear; accompanying his girlfriend Alison (Erica Prior) to meet her rich father at his birthday party whilst recovering from a bout of the flu. Upon his arrival at the hotel in which the party is taking place (which is also owned by her father), Norman attempts to propose to Alison but his overtures are swept aside in the social maelstrom of arriving guests, and also conveniently provides his would be fiancée ample opportunity to avoid being in his company.
Eventually Forrester manages to pin down his girlfriend and following a brief and terse exchange, he is abruptly introduced to Alison’s headstrong father Ron (Jack Taylor) who subsequently embarrasses him in front of the entire family. Indeed, around this point watching The Birthday gets its first subtle change in mood, highlighted by the interaction of the guests and staff in the function room as they become increasingly frank and aggressive with each other. In the midst of this, poor Norman attempts to make sense of Alison’s distant and unresponsive behavior, whilst hopelessly trying to avoid drinking alcohol due to his flu medication.
Seeking respite from the increasingly hostile environment of the gathering, he escapes to another floor of the hotel only to find a smaller corporate party in full Dionysian swing. To his surprise, a former classmate is one of the businessmen involved in the action and following a brief reintroduction, the inebriate draws Norman into a discussion about his obvious problems. After a drunken, stoned pep talk from his buddy, Norman grits his teeth and heads back to the function room, only to be confronted by a seemingly insane waiter who informs him wildly that an evil god is about to be born in the hotel and that this event will signal the end of the world! From here, Norman’s character change dynamically as events pick up pace, culminating in an axe wielding Norman facing off against a band of zombies on the dance floor.
In terms of stylistics, you need to watch The Birthday free online to understand why the full movie has obviously been thoughtfully conceived, beginning with mellow, soporific tones that often seem like something taken straight out of a David Lynch movie and then as the plot starts to take a shadowy and surrealist twist, compensates accordingly, awakening the viewer to the growing darkness of unfolding events. Particular praise is due to the final ten minutes or so, where the forces of evil are unleashed after her birthday party upon the guests and one particular sequence has Norman fighting for his life whilst the ambient sound levels are replaced by booming sub bass frequencies, invoking a sensation not dissimilar to a headache. A nice touch.
It’s also a very funny film, due in the main to a good script and ability of the cast. Corey Feldman, making a long awaited return to the silver screen, performs admirably as the hapless, almost hopeless yet ultimately heroic Norman. Hinting at a variety of influences from the likes of Woody Allen, Adam Sandler and even a less violent John Cleese in the early going, Feldman’s delivery transforms over the course of the film and on one or two occasions has a force reminiscent of a young Al Pacino. Jack Taylor also brings a lot to his role as a gruff, abrupt and uncompromising old man and Erica Prior is suitably devious as the manipulative girlfriend.
The Birthday is the first film from Spanish director Eugenio Mira, and won him the Best Spanish Director award at Sitges 2004. Tribute needs to be paid here to Mira for undertaking such an elaborate style of real time film making for his first project, and more importantly, for making it work. Additionally, by paying homage to many 1980s movies with its look and format, it gains a strength and uniqueness of its own that makes it stand out, particularly in comparison to some of the bigger budget Spanish movies currently being released. Perhaps those who like to spoon feed their way through movies without any challenge will be turned off, but it’s unlikely that it was made for people of that mentality anyway. Ultimately, The Birthday is fun, ambitious, dark and retains a familiar if not comfortable shroud of ‘80s sentimentalism whilst presenting something a little different. Well worth watching.