I have a confession to make. When I first heard about Canaries, from its UK premiere selection at London’s FrightFest, I was worried. Whenever a Welsh genre film comes along I always get a twinge of panic, of an intense desire for the film to be brilliant, good patriot that I am, and the unnerving expectation that it won’t be. There’s nothing inherently bad about Welsh genre filmmaking, at all, but being such a relatively small industry, I desperately want to support all of its output, particularly independent genre productions. I was absolutely thrilled, then, to have the opportunity to see Canaries and be blown away by the wonderful result. A sci-fi-horror-comedy is honestly never going to be an easy sell for me (I don’t have much of a sense of humour, let’s be honest), but Canaries is a delight from start to finish, a fine example of what can be achieved with ambition, verve and talent.
London DJ Steve (Craig Russell) returns home to the Welsh village of Lower Cwmtwrch in a bid to win investment from Nav (Richard Mylan), brother to his friend Sunita (Sheena Bhattessa), by showcasing his talents at a New Year’s Eve party. However, his friends back home, including Huw (Steven Meo) and Ryan (Aled Pugh) aren’t really giving him the platform he was after, with a disappointing house party guest list. Elsewhere, the US secret service have received numerous reports of alien activity and Special Agents Miles Kendrick (Rob Karma Robinson) and Marcie Gilman (Tsilala Brock) find evidence to suggest the next alien event will be taking place in Wales…
The ambitious nature of Canaries is a major selling point. While it’s true that director Peter Stray and his producers have made the very most of resources available to them – such as the American filming locations, including Martha’s Vineyard – there are so many ways in which this could have been an easier (lazier) film to make, and the results would have been much less satisfying. Instead, this little Welsh film – and it is very Welsh – aims global, and that’s an absolute delight to see. It also aims high in its narrative scope. Yes, the film’s set in a tiny Welsh village, but these aliens sure do invade, and the secret service sure does kick some butt. Credit has to go to the film’s brilliant fight choreographer (seen in the film as the head alien) Kev McCurdy, as well as the cast that gets truly stuck in. A big part of the film’s appeal is just how genuine it feels, and that extends from the locations, to the fight choreography, to the practical make-up effects.
That sense of authenticity really comes into its own in the script and performances. There’s a real naturalistic rapport between believable characters, as well as a thrillingly authentic sense of diversity – though I yearn for a day when that shouldn’t be notable, the ease with which it’s achieved in Canaries is something that should be inspirational and instructive to other filmmakers. The cast are clearly having a grand ol’ time together, and those performances lead to a genuine sense of emotional investment, something I think can be sorely lacking from horror comedies. It’s testament to the script too that a central character as, well, slightly tool-ish as Steve manages to become likeable – well, I wasn’t hoping for his untimely death at the end of an alien’s claw, anyway.
The film manages to balance slasher movie kills with an alien invasion narrative while allowing the absurdity of such a thing happening to such regular people form the basis of some very entertaining comedy. It’s fair to say that Canaries surprised me in all the best possible ways, and I’m looking forward to seeing it break out of its festival run to hit the big time…and hell, with a suitable mythos established around its story, maybe I can look forward to a sequel too.