Just as Monsters and Men showed the psychological wear and tear that comes when an unarmed black person is killed, CHICKENS enters the canon as a worthy induction in the world of cop-based films, where the subject is frighteningly close to the ones we read about in the news. CHICKENS begins where so many real-life examples end at the scene of those crimes, in the minutes that are usually never given enough focus. The videos are always examined with a fine-tooth comb when available. How did we get here and what did the victim do to provoke the officer is always under audit. The glaring gaps between the crime and when the officers involved deciding on their story, is an absent sore spot, for everyone seeking true justice. Bryian Keith Montgomery Jr. ambitiously puts us in the chaos, providing an alternative view of those tragic situations, when every second count and the results are scary.
When a teen played by Chris Sackey is slain in a pizza shop, the police are left with a dilemma = there are witnesses. An employee and couple who’ve seen the entire thing are alone with the cops. With the situation already past the tipping point, the police try to keep the situation under control as they figure out what to do. CHICKENS explores the multiple layers of fear everyone involved experiences after the tragedy. The employee Emily, who’s played by Amelia Hensley, is paralyzed by one layer of fear that this film explores – the bystander at the wrong place at the wrong time. In a truly impactful performance, you can sense how unsure of what to do she was after seeing authority figures callously disregard human life. As she listens to the police – who have scared her immeasurably, there are effectively brief flashbacks to the crime serving as a traumatic reminder of who she’s obeying. They’re not giving her a choice – either do what they say or potentially meet the same fate, a scenario that left me feeling very uneasy.
Officer Hobbs, played by William J. Beaumont, has a fleeting sense of remorse. His partner has done something he might not agree with but is that enough to cross the line and call him out? Where do his loyalties lie? Is he a civil servant, like he took an oath to be, or is he a man who puts the comradery over what’s right? The compelling viewpoint, with the fear of doing what’s right versus doing what’s expected, sends Hobbs on a course to choose who he belongs to, which is a line in the blood-soaked sand. Whichever way he leans, there will be no coming back from it.
The couple, Angie and Darryl, played strikingly by Jai’Lyn Spivey and Adrian Denzel, have the most complex fear of anyone left in the restaurant. They’ve just witnessed a murder, where the criminals are likely to get away with it. The rage and helplessness of watching it happen, put them into shock. Anxious to see what comes next is the most damning part of the situation, the realistic possibility that, because the police could get away with it based on their words and not the facts, they could be next.
They have done nothing but go out to dinner and now the question of whether they will make it home is the only thing on their minds. How do you reconcile with the idea of trying to do something millions of other couples do daily, which could result in loss of your life? They ask, “Why haven’t you called this in?” several times and are ignored. They’re baited and more as the shots of them becoming progressively angry and desperate set the backdrop for what the film reveals as one of its most poignant moments. Angie and Darryl shouldn’t have to make life decisions in a pizza restaurant and CHICKENS does an impeccable job of bringing the ridiculousness of that to life.
Officer O’Shea has all of the power and he knows it. The officer responsible for the death of the unarmed teen and the man calling the shots is feeling himself. When everyone else is chaotic, he is measured. While everyone else is wondering what to do, he is calm and understands that this is business as usual. With a believable performance from Brian Ramian, you are disgusted by his frame of mind. At one point, while delivering an authoritative monologue on how he sees himself, he tells the couple, “I am above you!” as he stares them down while holding their lives in his hands. Immense power held by the wrong person almost always leads to catastrophic results. Officer O’Shea and his power trip lend a terrifying voice to those who believe they are above the law.
As the story evolves, the directing of Bryian Keither Montgomery Jr. shines. We’re given enough room to let things resonate. After important moments, we’re forced to sit with them and revisit what launched this fatal showdown. It’s handled with the care that can only come from a place of authenticity. It’s not wrapped neatly for us to digest. It is taken to the extreme on purpose. Things effortlessly switch from tense to relief over and over, changing with the moods of the characters on a dime. The original music crafted by Daniel Cuirlizza keeps the intent of the film honest. There are no romantic pieces trying to lighten the mood. Instead, we’re given an audio companion that keeps things raw and on edge.
CHICKENS, unfortunately, is a relevant commentary on events we’re seeing far too frequently. It’s not afraid to put you in the middle of the fears and gross thoughts, of those who have power and those who are powerless. From the first frame until the twisted end, I never lost focus on what was important. The fine line of doing too little as opposed to too much was walked excellently. Whether we agree with everyone’s point of view isn’t important. The film asks the question too few are asking. What happens when the power you’ve abused no longer strikes fear in the hearts and minds of those you have abused?