Psychological thriller The Aviary is a slow burn in the desert

The Aviary - Courtesy Saban Films
The Aviary - Courtesy Saban Films /

The Aviary, a psychological thriller about two women hiking across the desert to escape the Silverlight cult, is a slow burn that asks the question – can you ever really escape your trauma? From first time feature director duo Chris Cullari and Jennifer Raite, The Aviary is the story of Jillian (Malin Akerman) and Blair (Lorenza Izzo) as they brave the unforgiving desert to escape Seth (Chris Messina) and his Silverlight cult (inspired by the NXIVM Cult).

The Aviary Synopsis

The Aviary begins with the two women far enough away from The Aviary (the remote desert compound of the Silverlight Cult) that it is just a silhouette in the background, but Blair is still nervous enough that Jillian (the escape mastermind) comforts her by  reminding her they have several hours’ lead staying off the main road. Jillian planned their escape using a topographical survey (not as effective as an actual map) to chart their course and estimate the length of the hike, and brought enough supplies to last the journey.  As a former Girl Scout, she can start a fire, identify poison berries, and even field-dress a wound – so they should have been all set.

Unfortunately, things are never so easy in the desert, or while under the psychological distress brought on by multiple years in a sex cult. On their first night together, Blair reveals that she stole cult leader, Seth’s computer – which has all of their one-on-one sessions secretly recorded.  Jillian is elated that they can use what is on the computer to bring Seth down, but Blair is more keen on destroying it so no one ever knows their deepest, darkest secrets.  As the journey drags on in the hot sun of the days and chilling cold of the nights, seeds of distrust are sewn between the two women that, once they realize they’ve somehow gone in the completely WRONG direction, spirals into downright paranoia.

Blair and Jillian find themselves in an old, abandoned mission of some kind, which provides shelter but little else.  Since the women have gone an entire day in the wrong direction, they no longer have enough supplies for the entirety of their journey, so they have to divvy up the food and water to make it last.  The psychological stress of this new development immediately has an impact, as there is dangerous sleepwalking during the night.  Blair no longer trusts Jillian to guide them, and this extends further to suspecting that Jillian is actually working against them, secretly communicating with Seth.  When they find themselves at the mission AGAIN after another full day of walking with Blair as the guide, even Jillian begins to question if they are being sabotaged somehow.

The Aviary
The Aviary – Courtesy Saban Films /

As the women embrace that they are in this together, and as the dehydration sets in, they are finally honest with each other (well, mostly honest) about what they experienced in the cult, the feelings they are having, and the hallucinations they are experiencing.  They ultimately work together to get through the pain, thirst, and hallucinations as the terrain finally starts to look different and Jillian regains some of that lost hope that they will make it out alive.

My Thoughts on The Aviary

The Aviary is not for someone who cannot be entertained by two women talking in the desert for an hour and a half – and the IMDB user reviews reflect that.  There are no jump scares or chainsaw/hatchet/machete wielding madman – just enough psychological trauma to overwhelm Freud, and a terrain that is as harsh and unforgiving as a cult leader pursuing escapees.  The chemistry between Akerman and Izzo is excellent, as is the character development throughout as they navigate this journey together.  The cinematography portrays the bleakness of their situation by sweeping the desolate landscape that goes on seemingly forever in every direction.  The ending is not black-and-white, and a lot of people like their endings spoon-fed to them.  Once again, if you’re one of those people – this movie isn’t for you.  But if you like the slow burn, unraveling of the psyche keeps you guessing even through the credits type of psychological thriller that is inspired by true events – The Aviary  is ninety minutes you’ll enjoy and talk about after it’s over.

Cast Details and More

Malin Akerman has an executive producer credit on The Aviary which also stars Sandrine Holt as Delilah, and is produced by Marcei A. Brown (Get Out), Andrew Miller (Nothing), Jessica Rhoades (Sharp Objects), and Jeanette Volturno, former Blumhouse Head of Production.  The score is by first-time feature film composer Zak Clark (Soundtrack), and Chris Cullari and Jennifer Raite  also wrote and served as executive producers – look out for my interview with them coming soon to 1428 Elm.

The Aviary is available as of April 29 in select theaters and On Demand.

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Do you think you can ever really escape your trauma?  Sound off in the comments!