Influenced by the VHS years, a group of teenagers prepare for a big birthday party, unaware that a mental patient has escaped close by and is on the prowl in Colin James’ Birthday Bash.
The smash hit success of Netflix’s Stranger Things has thrown the ‘decade of excess’ the 80’s, right to the forefront of the public consciousness. The Duffer brother’s genius has been to encapsulate all of their favourite 80’s movie memories and stuff them into one well-packaged script that connects these moments and pop culture references, to an engaging set of characters involved in a strong storyline. Not only have they managed to thrill a new generation of millennial binge watchers, they have also managed to emotionally capture older viewers pining for their youth and a simpler time when CGI in movies merely enhanced a film and wasn’t the actual film.
Much like the Duffers, Colin James, the writer/director of the new short film ‘Birthday Bash’ wears his 80’s heart on his sleeve for all to see, unfortunately, that’s all he is wearing and it leaves ‘Birthday Bash’ feeling a little bit naked and somewhat exposed.
Set in the town of Springdale in 1987 ‘Birthday Bash’ is a horror comedy inspired by the slasher films of the 70’s and 80’s. The main character Kristin, played with a lovely knowing innocence by Mallory Roach, is a new girl in town who, in order to fit in, decides at the behest of her cousin Natalie, a wonderfully geeky Carla Duval, to attend the birthday party of the most popular girl in school Jennifer (Shay Guthrie). Also at the party is mean girl Courtney, the suitably bitchy Maya Tripathy, posh and arrogant Brad (Matthew Courson) and football jock Eric (Matthew Provenza).
So far, so 80’s teen slasher. The stock characters are here, so all we need now is an escaped lunatic to be thrown into the mix and we are good to go. Luckily, we are advised at the beginning of the short – via a walkman radio news flash – that a dangerous mental patient has recently escaped from a high-security hospital and is now on the loose somewhere near Springdale.
As the house party begins, drinks are downed, insults are thrown, kisses are shared and, when the lights go out, each character is inexplicably drawn towards the dark and lonely corners of the building and begin dying one-by-one.
As the writer/director, it is clear James’ idea was to make ‘Birthday Bash’ as 80’s as possible and for the most part he succeeds, there are a lot of positives with his vision. The music is most definitely the standout part of the film; it is amazingly Carpenter-esque and brilliantly conveys the decade. Composer Jesse Thum does a terrific job; as soon as you hear his score playing over the opening credits, you are immediately transported back thirty years to those dusty old video shops that only had two copies of the latest release in and both of them out on loan. Also, as director, James himself is very inventive using a similar film grain look along with the crackling sound and colouring you associate with those old tapes too, you automatically get a sense of those chunky plastic VHS cases.
The performances vary from decent to adequate, the main problem here is that there is a lack of energy throughout the cast which all the best 80’s slashers had in abundance and this unfortunately affects the pacing somewhat. James favourite film and a big influence is ‘Heathers’ and although the dialogue is not as clever or as cutting as that teen classic, the best performances come from the girls who, although playing characters we are very familiar with, manage to give each one an interesting take. The appearance of Giacomo Rochini as the party vinyl spinner, DJ Rad, livens proceedings a bit and, although it does seem like he has walked in from a completely different film, it is an enjoyable, if confusing, detour.
Nevertheless, if a brief trip down memory lane is what you are after and you don’t mind a daft bit of gore here or a silly chuckle there, there is enjoyment to be had within Birthday Bash and like me you may well find yourself pointing out the recognisable influences of the genre, which in turn may lead you to watch/re-watching one of the many 1980’s classics Colin James based his film on and any short that does that is not bad at all.