Netflix UK film review: Earthquake Bird
James R | On 12, Oct 2019
Director: Wash Westmoreland
Cast: Alicia Vikander, Riley Keough, Naoki Kobayashi
Watch Earthquake Bird online in the UK: Netflix UK
From Basic Instinct to Side Effects, the psychosexual thriller has taken many forms over the years, whether it’s a guilty pleasure steam-up or a sombre, intense drama. Earthquake Bird, the latest from Wash Westmoreland, promises a blend of the two, as we see Riley Keough and Alicia Vikander collide in a doomed threesome.
Vikander is Lucy Fly, a translator who has been working in Japan for five years and remains keen to blend in. She finds herself enamoured by tall, dark, handsome photographer Teiji (Naoki Kobayashi), who snaps her picture in the street without her permission – and their burgeoning romance is stirred up by the arrival of Lily (Keough), a former nurse happy to stick out like a sore thumb as she works in Tokyo bars.
What ensues is a story of opposites, as Lucy’s quiet, straight-laced presence clashes with the carefree, open attitude of Lily. One started learning Japanese as a child hoping to make a new life overseas. The other doesn’t speak anything but American, yet still manages to catch the eye of Teiji.
Vikander and Keough do good work as the odd couple. The Tomb Raider star speaks her Japanese dialogue convincingly and confidently, burying the feat in a buttoned-down, restrained performance. Keough, on the other hand, breezes through scenes with a loud, brash charisma, which makes her easier to like than Vikander’s Lucy – and that toying with our sympathies and trust is key to Earthquake Bird’s simmering tensions.
Flashbacks, hallucinations and suspicions soon follow, and director Wash Westmoreland makes sure we question which ones to take on face value. But face value is the primary level on which this tale of obsession – with people and with culture – works.
Westmoreland sustains a low-key but on-edge atmosphere, with gorgeous shots of familiar Tokyo landmarks that live up to the stylish opening credits. Percussive and moody music by Atticus Ross adds to the noirish vibe, but the script – based on Susanna Jones’s 2001 novel – is lacking the substance to accompany the slick surface; that simmering tension fails to reach boiling point. The third act descends into implausibility and frustration, but in a way that’s too serious to be enjoyable, and despite the unusual location, doesn’t bring enough new surprises to the B-movie table to live up to its A-list cast. The result is a glossy but hollow affair that winds up too inert to arouse much interest.
Earthquake Bird is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.