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The Aviary
Saban Films

Movie Reviews

‘The Aviary’ review: riveting psychological cult thriller

“He got us lost in our own minds. “

The Aviary promises a story of two women on the run from a cult leader who is “as seductive as he is controlling”. While this sounds like the plot of the sort of book you might pick up at the airport, or for a beach read, The Aviary is actually a very solid and entertaining psychological survival thriller about two women’s escape. While they must journey to physical safety, they also have to battle the grip that their cult leader had on their minds. 

While Blair and Jillian have managed to physically get away from the cult – Skylight, as they call it – it quickly becomes apparent that Blair (Lorenza Isso) is paranoid about being found, convinced they’re being followed. It isn’t too long before Jillian (Malin Akerman) is dreaming about Seth, their former leader.

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Seth, played by Chris Messina, clearly has a hold on Blair and Jillian, even though they want to get away from him. Jillian had an intimate emotional relationship with him, as his “lead engineer”, while Blair was in love with him. As is stereotypical with cults, Seth is, of course, sleeping with many of the cult’s followers. Messina was born for a role like this; he’s at his best when he’s just a little creepy and drunk on his own power. As he repeatedly interrupts Jillian’s dreams, he becomes increasingly intense and demanding. Despite not actually interacting with Jillian, it’s as if Seth really is with her, pushing her towards her next move. 

Blair, who’s extremely nervous and dependent on Jillian, hates the word “cult”. It comes out that she was only 26 when she joined, and it was Jillian who recruited her in the first place. Much of what the two women discuss about Skylight is very typical of portrayals of cults. They do something called “barrier therapy” (which might be like Scientology’s “auditing”), and Seth punishes his followers when they don’t comply.

The Aviary

Saban Films

While The Aviary is not a horror film, nor is it trying to be, there are some effectively unexpected jump scares. Blair begins to lose her grip on reality as she and Jillian trudge through the desert, and her psychosis lends itself to disturbing imagery and moments where you’ll be wondering what’s really going on. 

Despite Jillian’s’ map and Girl Scout skills, the pair get lost, and Blair becomes increasingly paranoid and aggressive towards Jillian. Not only are Blair and Jillian trying to get away, they’re also trying to find out what happened to another one of the cult’s “Songbirds”, and Seth’s partner, Delilah, and the two women need to be able to work together.

Blair is also out for revenge, but as the journey progresses, it seems Blair and Jillian are only getting further away from their goals. Isso’s performance in particular is steady; as Blair loses her grip on reality and her physical health, you might actually find yourself worrying about her, and questioning Jillian’s intentions right alongside her.

The Aviary

Saban Films

Written and directed by Chris Cullari and Jennifer Raite, The Aviary maintains a quick and captivating place as Jillian and Blair fall further into mystery. Both women’s delusions only become more powerful as the film progresses, and the two become unable to trust each other. While this could become confusing, the film’s directions and aesthetics are clear; you’ll be confused only exactly when you should be, and not for a moment too long. 

At a 96 minute runtime, The Aviary manages not to become repetitive despite Blair and Jillian literally travelling in circles. While Messina is great in his role as cult leader Seth, there isn’t very much of him in the film, as he mostly appears in dreams or as an apparition. The Aviary ends on a bleak and unnerving note, and it’s the perfect ending to this twisty thriller. While it might not be a completely shocking ending, it fits right in with the sort of twists that the film teased at throughout.

The Aviary makes its World Premiere in theaters, Digital, and on demand April 29

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