The Overlook Film Festival Review: TWO PIGEONS

Beware the man who lives in the walls.

Hussein is just like any other middle aged man living in a contemporary world. He wakes up in the morning to the ringing of his alarm clock, brushes his teeth, showers, eats his cereal, puts on his suit and tie and waltzes into work. There’s just one small difference – the moment after he steps out of his apartment, a long bony hand stretches out from behind his bedroom door, and a tall, ghastly figure emerges into his living room.

His name is Orlan, and little to Hussein’s knowledge, he’s been living inside of the walls of this apartment for quite some time now. Every day when Hussein hustles off to his job (and even while he’s sleeping), Orlan slithers out of the crawlspace tucked away within a hole inside of Hussein’s closet and sneaks around the lift, messing with various items as he goes. After Hussein brushes his teeth and leaves, Orlan picks up the same toothbrush and scrubs his gums clean. Sometimes he even uses the brush to scrub the place between his cheeks – yes, those cheeks. Orlan grabs the silverware and throws it in the toilet, relieves himself into the porcelain bowl, and then places the forks and spoons and knives back in the drawer where he found them. He gargles Hussein’s mouthwash, then spits the liquid straight back into the bottle. Hussein is supposed to pick up his live-in girlfriend who’s been out of town at the airport the following day at 1 PM, so Orlan changes the settings on his alarm clock and alters the note on the fridge to a different time and terminal so that Hussein will be late. He leaves excrements in his toilet, watches gay porn on Hussein’s girlfriend’s computer, puts chemicals in his shampoo, and even steals the number from Hussein’s credit card so that he can use it to buy things and have them shipped directly to the apartment. He even goes so far as to snap a photo of his junk and send it to Hussein’s boss, you know, just for funsies.

It’s hard not to feel sorry for Hussein. All he’s trying to do is make a living and enjoy his time with his lady, and yet, here’s this strange, gangly, disgusting individual who constantly interferes with his life and thwarts his plans at every possible opportunity. It’s hard enough keeping a roof over your head when someone’s not out to take it away from you, but when you’ve got a man sharing your space unbeknownst to your knowledge, toying with your things and purposely trying to drive a wedge between you and your woman, it can really feel like the world is out to get you. What could Hussein have done to deserve this? Who is this perverse bird-like miscreant who devotes himself to ruining Hussein’s life? And, perhaps most importantly, will Hussein ever discover that there actually is a crazed man living inside of his walls, or will he simply go on forever believing that he is somehow doing this himself until he finally goes insane?

Of course, screwing up Hussein’s livelihood isn’t the only way that Orlan chooses to spend his time. He also likes to read, play the guitar, smoke Hussein’s weed, sing and chat with the two pigeons that come by daily to perch themselves on Hussein’s balcony. Each day that the sweet little birds show up and peck at the crumbs that Orlan brings them, he uses them as involuntary actors, speaking for each of them as if they were in conversation with one another, and recalling his own life in the process. Speaking solemnly in Spanish, Orlan uses the pigeons as puppets, pretending as though one is the boyfriend, and one is the girl who is carrying his baby. Together the pigeons "talk" in intervals, first about their exciting new plans for a bigger apartment to give their child room to grow, and then, later on, about how the rug had been pulled out from under them, and how their humble abode had been pawned off to the highest bidder. As the days ramble on, and the pigeons’ story begins to evolve, it starts to become clear that perhaps we were pitying the wrong dweller of this property. Just as the pigeons perch on this stoop and peek into Hussein’s lavish living room, so, too, does Orlan spend his days staring through the hole in the wall at what he can’t have. His only choice is to torment the man who took it away from him – to haunt the man who ruined his life and reduced him to nothing more than a phantom of his former self.

The directorial debut from Dominic Bridges, Two Pigeons is a hilariously cringe-worthy and darkly funny little gross-out movie. Much cleverer than it appears at first glance, the film forces us to switch perspectives about halfway through, as we first find ourselves sympathizing with a real estate agent who has clearly had some sort of madman break into his home, and then later find ourselves rooting for Orlan on as he steals Hussein’s spaghetti and tricks his girlfriend into believing she might be a beard. It must be difficult to make your audience relate to a lanky lurker of the shadows who spends his free time tormenting a man in his own home, but somehow, Bridges manages to illicit an emotional response for the creepiest guy in the room.

It’s so nice to see Javier Botet’s face for once. Botet is the star of many well known horror films, but we’ve all grown so accustomed to seeing him as a creature actor, like The Crooked Man in James Wan’s The Conjuring 2, or as the spidery zombie Nina Medeiros in Rec, or as Mama in Mama – it’s a real treat to see what the man behind the makeup can do. He’s really something special. Also, it’s nice to watch him explain his backstory through the unusual approach of speaking through winged creatures, rather than falling prey to the Scream-inspired curse where the villain spends ten minutes of the climax of the movie explaining exactly why they’re doing what they’re doing (I love Scream dearly, but let’s be honest, it started a bit of a craze).

The only real grievance I’d say I have with Two Pigeons is that it could have gone just a bit farther into gross-out territory than it did. Loaded to the brim with Sleep Tight/Mientras Duermes vibes, this is a superb first effort from Bridges, but because it reminded me so much of another, much more devious film with such a similar premise, I couldn’t help but notice that Two Pigeons is a bit tame in comparison. Still, there are some genuinely tense moments, it’s oddly sweet, and Botet’s boney body really works to his advantage as he creeps quietly around the place like a gaunt ghost. Two Pigeons is definitely worth checking out, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself checking your closet and under your bed shortly after your first screening experience.