I think it’s safe to say that writers/directors Mark Harriott and Mike Matthews must like The Wicker Man. Unhappy Birthday comes across as a bit of a homage to the 1973 Edward Woodward movie, except with a more modern take on sexuality.
Rick is taking his girlfriend Sadie for a birthday weekend away, with their friend Johnny coming along as well. What Rick hasn’t told Sadie is that on the windswept island they’re heading to is a women he believes to be her long-lost sister, and that he’s going to surprise her by bringing them together. However the trio have more issues than just family reunions to worry about, as Rick is partial to sleeping with Johnny when Sadie isn’t around, and she is up the duff, even though Rick might be infertile.
Although all that sounds like a rather overwrought soap opera, things get more interesting when they arrive on the island and discover its strange inhabitants and idiosyncratic ways. However is it just isolation that’s made the locals a little peculiar or is something more sinister going on?
Unhappy Birthday is a bit of a slow burner that take it’s time to get going, but works pretty well once it does. The film does a decent job of building tension and keeping it going, even if there are a few moments when the whole thing seems like it’ll tip into silliness. Those looking for gore won’t find all that much of it, but if you’re up for a film that’s more about creating unease than filling the screen with blood, Unhappy Birthday does a decent job.
It may not do all that much that’s original (even the complex relationship machinations are out of indie movie 101) but what it does do, it does pretty well. The ending in particular is very effective, and while you may have seen it coming, it’s still rather creepy.
Overall Verdict: This low-budget Brit-flick certainly tries to channel The Wicker Man, and although it doesn’t quite measure up to that movie, it’s still pretty good.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac