Earthquake Bird is well acted, well shot, and an absolutely bonkers mess
By Chase Hutchinson
Where to begin. It is a rare thing for a film to come along that is so unnecessarily convoluted and chaotic that you begin to feel like you are losing your mind. Earthquake Bird is one of those films. It feels like 2018's A Simple Favor but it plays it 100 percent seriously. A Simple Favor was aware of how bizarre and strange the entire affair was. It wasn't everyone's cup of tea, but I genuinely appreciated how it just was all over the place in what felt like an intentional way. This film, on the other hand, seems to think it is crafting a tension filled thriller....which it doesn't. It is incredibly invested in a mystery that is mostly kept in the background through a serious of interrogation scenes set sometime in the future of the narrative. These jumps in time are a narrative cliche used to create artificial tension in a story where there otherwise wouldn't be any. In this case, it establishes that a murder has happened and that the main character of Lucy, played by VIkander, is the main suspect. This establishes that the story is building to some sort of conflict but it just never really gets there.
The funniest thing is that the basic story is almost banal and flat. Lucy is a translator living in Japan who begins to form a relationship with a photographer named Teiji that she meets when randomly roaming around. They begin "dating" which I have put in quotations because there is always a cold distance in their relationship. I think that the intent is meant to be again mysterious but it just comes across as inauthentic with next to no chemistry. The two spend most of their time taking photos which can only be intriguing for so long. Even the moments of tension and conflict between the two feel shallow. They again serve to create an artificial conflict that essentially goes nowhere. The biggest reason for this is that there is nothing to grasp on to character wise. Small glimpses are learned about the two of them and their past which come across as forced when they do occur. These moments are so infrequent that when they do happen, they pass incredibly quickly and seem to exist only as an exposition dumps that are quickly forgotten. At the end of the film, it almost was like I didn't know anything about these people I spent nearly two hours with.
The biggest problem is the writing and how rushed it all feels
This film wasn't short. There is no excuse as to why it couldn't have developed the characters more. I have not read the book, but this could be a situation where the source material was something that shouldn't have been adapted in the first place. There are books that are unadaptable and this may just be one of them. The way that the story wraps itself up towards the end is the biggest indicator of this. I won't reveal anything specifically, but the ending of the story was incredibly frustrating at it seemed to abandon most of the themes it was developing earlier. I came away just perplexed about what purpose the late reveal served in the narrative and what the end point of the story ended up being. I think that if the film was edited around in a different order that some of these things could be fixed but rearranging the story can only do so much. The story itself is not one that I would say is well executed.
This is a shame as Vikander is one of my favorite actors. I still remember her nuanced performance in Ex Machina as being a highlight of the decade. Riley Keough is good even as I found her character of the potential side love interest to be incredibly grating and sometimes infuriating. The film is well shot and there are moments where some of the shots were dare I say arresting. The score by Atticus Ross is fantastic as usual. It is just unfortunate that the sum of all of these parts cannot overcome the entirety of the narrative that is working against it. All of the parts are there except for the writing itself which is where it needed it to be strongest. I cannot say that there was much I will remember of this story as it becomes tedious towards the end and VIkander's performance cannot keep it afloat as it sinks under its own mess of a narrative.