The lines between the mundane and sublime get blurry in The Book of Birdie, a horror movie disguised as a fantastical coming-of-age tale. Nuns are hot right now, and The Book of Birdie is chock full of them, but they aren’t the evil ones in this situation. The real villains of the piece never appear onscreen. This makes viewing The Book of Birdie an off-kilter experience, but an interesting one.
Birdie (Ilirida Memedovski) has been sent to a convent by her grandmother. There are only four or five nuns there, rattling around in this big stone building, but they take the girl in and promise to take care of her. Birdie is frail and quiet, given to flights of fancy. She likes to be left alone and only associates with the sisters when she must. Birdie also has a couple of secrets, one of which is her pregnancy, which ends abruptly in her bed. Birdie keeps the tiny fetus, which she names Ignatius, in a jar like a biological specimen. This leads to her fascination with blood. She collects her own menses in bowls which she keeps under her bed. This obsession combines with her growing understanding of her own faith, which is more primal than catechismal. She begins snitching small pieces of iconography, such as holy cards, and marking them with own her blood. Soon, she has built an entire shrine to menstruation, miscarriage and the saints.
In a small cloistered community, that much blood doesn’t go unnoticed. One of the nuns believes that Birdie may be exhibiting signs of stigmata. The dead nuns Birdie may or may not be speaking to seem to believe this, too. Birdie is not what you would consider a reliable storyteller, and the viewer is never quite sure what is real and what is occurring strictly in Birdie’s mind.
The Book of Birdie doesn’t have a single male in the cast, and the crew was majority female. Director Elizabeth E. Schuch has crafted a visually jolting film, creating sequences that are nothing but the Catholic black and white, while some of Birdie’s fantasy sequence call to mind the lavish work of Julie Taymor. Even so, the specter of the patriarchy hangs over the filmed action. The decisions of unseen men set the story in motion and bring about the ending. It’s an incisive point.
While it may not necessarily be a feminist horror film, The Book of Birdie draws its power from uniquely feminine experiences. A man could have a Dave Foley-esque good attitude towards menstruation, but it isn’t something they will ever go through. This is a movie about blood, its symbolism and power. The blood of Christ, the blood of the martyred saints, and Birdie’s own blood become indistinguishable. In the end, The Book of Birdie is a primal story, written in crimson and wrapped in gauze. It is a challenging film, with images that stick in the viewer’s mind. Don’t expect a regular good old night at the movies, but you may find yourself enjoying it all the same.
The Book of Birdie is available in the US and Canada on Amazon, iTune, and other VOD distributors.