Having never heard of the moving drama Pelican Blood, I remember typing the name of Karl Golden’s third feature into IMDB and discovering that I was about to watch a film about bird watching. That’s right, bird watching - actual birds of the feathered variety. To be perfectly blunt, the prospect didn’t exactly set my heart a jumping. Thankfully there’s a whole lot more to Pelican Blood than making lists of bird names, but Karl Golden uses the ‘popular pastime’ as a plot device to drive his story forward. In truth, it’s a film about the trials and tribulations of youth, a movie concerned with life and most notably death.
Nikko (Harry Treadaway) is a young man struggling with the concept of life, and bird watching allows him the freedom to escape his everyday problems and spend time with his friends. Most young adults would go to the pub of course, but in Nikko’s case that’s probably a bad idea. In a harrowing flashback we discover that he nearly killed his sister in a failed suicide attempt, in fact the film opens with the line ‘I once went out with a girl, and we were both going to kill ourselves… it turned out one of us wasn’t serious.’ Not your typical bird watching romp then, whatever that may be, but a well-crafted drama all the same.
My initial reaction to these mismatched friends was that they really didn’t look like your typical twitchers; they look like the kind of friends who hang out in the local Dog & Duck. Not that I spend a lot of time around bird watchers you understand. We are led to believe however that Bish (Ali Craig) and Cameron (Arthur Darvill) share a great passion for birds, and they have stuck with Nikko through the good times and the bad. Bish does show some signs of regular human behaviour, he has his eye on an attractive European girl in the local café, and when he’s not out spying on his feathered friends, he can be found in the café touching up on his Polish.
Things pick up when Stevie (Emma Booth) arrives back in town. We discover that Nikko and Stevie had been hot and heavy for a while, but it was their sudden break up that led to Nikko’s original breakdown. As you can imagine, the rest of the gang aren’t best pleased that Stevie is back on the scene, and her re-emergence sparks tension amongst the group. Nikko and Stevie have a bizarre relationship it has to be said, the chemistry is openly apparent from the start, but quite why they spend so much time together is a mystery. A deep-rooted resentment threatens to derail them at every turn, but in truth, it’s this unrelenting passion for annihilation that binds them together - that and the regular sex sessions.
The four leads are excellent throughout, utterly believable and never less than captivating. Treadaway and Booth are asked to carry the weight of the movie, and it’s their relationship that provides the heart, soul and emotional core. The detrimental nature of their romance is key to the films success, and both actors succeed in making their characters believable - credit in particular to Treadaway for taking a character so unashamedly flawed and making him likeable. Nikko isn't a nice guy for the most part, and his rebellious behaviour is never less than off the wall, but Treadaway adds a touch of humanity to a potent mix, and a dry sense of humour that just about wins you over.
Karl Golden keeps the plot moving at a fast pace, which is just as well because Pelican Blood seems to lose focus when the two leads aren’t in frame. Golden appears compelled to incorporate the bird watching theme, a move that serves only to hamper the main thrust of the picture - a well-written tale that rarely feels forced. The characters of Nikko and Stevie are what holds the film together, not the occasional leanings to spotting, and it’s their tragic plight that allows Pelican Blood to take flight.
Thought provoking, edgy and occasionally haunting, Pelican Blood is a film that reminds us about the bemusement of youth. So don’t be put off by the bird watching theme because there’s a lot here to enjoy. You know - like death, suicide and despair. That kind of thing.