Published Sep 23, 2012Relying mostly on his performers and the story, Blackbird (Jason Buxton's surprisingly adept feature film debut) tackles the hot button issue of crime prevention versus overreacting, blending the topic with the inherent human dread of difference.
It's something that could easily become pedagogical or sanctimonious in the wrong hands, but Buxton handles his story with restraint, letting it unfold with even plausibility.
Exacerbated by its small-town setting, this social horror details the experiences of the intelligent, but alienated Sean Randall (Connor Jessup) in a high school littered with interchangeable, undiscerning hockey jocks reiterating a complacent and backwards status quo.
Letting his quiet rage simmer behind dyed black hair, piercing and a studded leather jacket, Sean remains an enigma to his "well-adjusted" peers and hunter father, Ricky (Michael Buie).
Typically left to routine teasing and glib remarks, tensions flare when puck bunny Deanna Roy (Alexia Fast) decides to explore her naughty side by flirting with the town outsider, thus enraging the hockey team and creating ensuing chaos. Powerless in the scenario, Sean writes a blog about a how much he'd like to kill all of them, which lands him in a youth detention centre.
While pointing out the bandwagon nature of standard community folk — always one newspaper headline away from grabbing their torches and pitchforks — Blackbird is careful not to make this a tale of mere victimization.
Knowing that middle-class adults are unlikely to admit fault for raising their children to dread difference as they do, Sean's character arc is one of learning to be the bigger person, quietly martyred for being more discerning than others. This is demonstrated by his ability to forgive and make amends with a violent and unstable fellow inmate that bullies him to compensate for his internal shortcomings.
At the centre of this balanced story of cause and effect is a performance from Connor Jessup that anchors the heart of the film, mirroring the subdued and logical nature with grace and maturity. Even though his performance, much like Buxton's debut, is a little rough around the edges — there's a slight lack of nuance in both — despite having the ideal intentions, it demonstrates talent to keep an eye on. (A71)