"Objects in the mirror may be closer and more terrifying than they appear"
Sheriff Wayne has only one more day left on the job before moving to the city for a better life with his wife. But his last day is going to be anything but typical. His town comes under attack from a flock of blood-thirsty ravens, preying on the townsfolk and causing widespread panic.
Just like killer shark films will always be compared to Jaws, then it can be said the very small 'birds run amok' sub-genre will forever be in the shadow of Alfred Hitchcock's classic thriller The Birds. It's not a very good list, and thankfully a small one, with the likes of the awful sequel The Bird II: Land's End, Flu Birds and Birds of Prey (aka Beaks) all trying and failing to do something remotely interesting or scary with our feathered friends. With it's roots firmly in TV movie hell, and premiering on The Sci-Fi Channel no less, upon first glance you'd believe that Kaw would be another terrible addition to this niche genre. But alas, sometimes appearances can be deceptive and for it's humble origins, Kaw is actually not too bad. Is it the second best killer birds film of all time? It might not be stretching the truth too far!
On its own, Kaw works as an average horror-thriller which is competent without being too flash. Birds aren't exactly the scariest thing on this planet but if you've ever looked at those ravens or crows, then you know there's a deeper intelligence at work. The genus corvus (including crows, ravens and rooks) are one of the smartest animals out there and can use tools to solve puzzles, can remember human faces and even hold grudges. So the thought of them ganging up to take on humanity isn't as far-fetched as it sounds, especially with the added bonus of these being ravens which have been driven insane by feeding off mad cow disease-infected cattle. At least it beats genetically-engineered birds for a change. Attacking in flocks, the ravens pose more of a threat in numbers and they're pretty handy with those sharp beaks.
Kaw features some reasonable set pieces, certainly more tense than you'd see in similar genre films, though these are unfortunately balanced out with some equally cartoonish moments. There are lots of attack scenes through the film, though there's not an awful lot of variation. There isn't a huge amount of blood either with the majority being confined to grisly shots of dead bodies with their eyes pecked out. Kaw has a decent pace, which prevents it from becoming boring, and at no point did I ever feel fed up of watching. In this respect, it does it's job more than admirably given it's low budget and limited production values. For what it costs, the makers of the film do a solid job with the tools at their disposal. You just get a sense of familiarity to everything and there's no real shocks or twists coming. Safety first is the name of the game.
Even the human side of the film, so often the downfall of this type of flick, is solid. Sean Patrick Flannery is a respectable kind of ‘everyman’ hero that a film like this needs, not some plot-armoured character who leaps around and dons his superhero cape to save the day. In a supporting role, Stephen McHattie is one of those great character actors you always see but can never name him or any other film he's been in. He's great as the town drunk and steals the show. Rod Taylor, star of The Birds, makes a small appearance in the film as the local doctor. I would have liked to see some sort of in-joke or throwaway gag involving Taylor's character and the Hitchcock film but the film was played out straight so there was no chance of that. But his choice of casting is a clear nod by the makers of Kaw as to where their inspiration came from.
The good thing here is that all of the actors, be it the main cast or supporting players, do their best to convince the audience that the threat is real. Apart from some ropey CGI in some scenes, the ravens come off a threat. Coupled with everything else, Kaw has a solid atmosphere which is far better than it has any right to be and for a breezy little time-waster, director Sheldon Wilson does a great job. It's a pity he's been stuck doing dodgy TV movies such as Carny, The Hollow and Mega Cyclone.
Kaw is a pretty decent horror-thriller which, despite its blatant pillaging of The Birds, manages to conjure up a few tricks here and there. It's nothing flash but gets the job done. In a day where I dread putting the next ‘monster on the loose’ flick into my DVD player, it's refreshing to find one that doesn't completely suck. I guess that's a compliment but given how many appalling films I've seen lately, Kaw is like a breath of fresh air! Competently acted, competently directed and competently.... er... just competent overall!
Director(s): Sheldon Wilson
Writer(s): Ben Sztajnkrycer
Actor(s): Sean Patrick Flanery, Kristin Booth, Megan Park, Stephen McHattie, Rod Taylor, John Ralston, Michèle Duquet
Duration: 85 mins