For some inexplicable reason, Netflix seems to have set its sights on reviving the early-to- mid 90’s boom of erotic thrillers, old-fashioned melodramas mixed with vague neo-noir trappings and done up with a patina of sex and slick, gauzy cinematography (think anything with Rebecca De Mornay or Sean Young from the era). Earthquake Bird fits the bill, and also boasts the dubious distinction of being about 5 years too late to jump on the Gillian Flynn-adjacent Gone Girl and Making a Murderer bandwagons. Earthquake Bird is handsomely mounted by director Wash Westmoreland and Park Chan-Wook’s regular cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung, but it’s a turgid film, boring and nonsensical. A sexy psychological thriller that is neither sexy nor thrilling, and one which demonstrates no understanding of how human beings act, it’s the filmic equivalent of a pretty face with a vacant stare transposed onto a screen.
Earthquake Bird is handsomely mounted by director Wash Westmoreland and Park Chan-Wook’s regular cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung, but it’s a turgid film, boring and nonsensical.
Alicia Vikander is a fine actress, but she is stymied here as Lucy, a Swedish expat living in Tokyo in the late 1980’s. As the film opens, she is being interrogated by police about the disappearance of Lily (Riley Keough), a ditzy American who is missing and presumed dead. The rest of the film unfolds as a long flashback, essentially abandoning the police station framing device, as we see Lucy and Lily meet, look at apartments, go dancing, and otherwise become friendly (somewhat begrudgingly on Lucy’s part). Meanwhile, Lucy has begun dating Teiji (Naoki Kobayashi), a brooding, mysterious man who takes lots and lots of photographs. What follows is fairly typical love triangle stuff, as Lucy fears Lily is being a little too friendly with Teiji, who in turn is so introverted and taciturn that it is virtually impossible to discern any thought process behind his steely eyes. This being a mystery, it is suggested at various points that each one of these characters has a deep, dark secret, most of which are eventually divulged in long, uninteresting conversations where characters confess stuff to each other. The biggest issue here is that none of these people seem real; they are walking, talking plot points that exist only to service the story and then quickly change depending on what the plot demands of them at any given moment. Teiji is charming and outgoing, until he’s not. Lily is an obnoxious party girl, until she needs to be competent. Lucy is smart, determined, and professional, until she needs to become hysterical and paranoid. It’s a complete failure as a mystery, and by the time Lily’s fate is revealed and the killer unmasked, it is so uninteresting as to be almost parody of the genre. Even the film’s setting has no real purpose, as both the era and location are unremarkable. By taking place in the 1980s, the film avoids the kind of modern technology that would render various plot-based misunderstandings totally moot, and the film has nothing to say about Japanese culture. There’s momentary lip service paid to the idea of being a stranger in a strange land, and the difficulties of living in a country where you are an outsider, especially one who doesn’t speak the language, but these ideas aren’t developed in any way. Instead we are treated to long scenes of characters whispering breathlessly into each other’s ears or aggressively embracing one another and declaring their devotion. This is a deeply stupid, deeply boring film, a refashioned relic of an era that died off for a reason.
You can currently stream Wash Westmoreland’s Earthquake Bird on Netflix.