As often as not the key to low-budget filmmaking is to think globally but act locally. So while Peter Stray’s feature debut Canaries eventually settles into a parochial alien invasion comedy on New Year’s Eve, 2014 in the lower half of the Welsh one-street village of Cwmtwrch, it opens with a triptych of scenes separated by time and space: first the 1980 Rendlesham Forest Incident in Suffolk, England, then a sequence in Ninh Bình, Vietnam in 1996, and lastly a grizzly non-Jaws-related discovery on the shores of Martha’s Vineyard in 2012. And once the film’s Welsh story is underway, even that is undercut with scenes in Washington DC as a shadowy Department of Defence offshoot observes incidents unfolding across the Atlantic. “Do you know the budget that gets allocated to this department?”, explains Miles Kendrick (Rob Karma Robinson) as an underling complains that their equipment is nowhere near as high-tech as the equivalent seen “in the movies”. Kendrick may as well be defending the lo-fi aesthetic of Canaries itself – but nobody could fault the film for its international ambitions.
The effect of all this is to situate the film’s seemingly small-scale events in a much grander scheme. For even as Canaries gently ribs the absurd banalities of Welsh village life, it also puts Cwmtwrch (literally) on the map of world affairs, and allowing for some gentle satire on the unequal basis of the UK’s ‘special relationship’ with the US. Our sort-of hero is Steve Dennis (Craig Russell), a womanising radio DJ who left London under a cloud and is now back home in Wales trying, improbably, to raise finances for a Valleys club scene. Steve has invited potential investor Nav (Richard Mylan) and Nav’s sister – also Steve’s ex – Sunita (Sheena Bhattessa) from London to the launch party in the local B&B, but they are not the only outsiders in Cwmtwrch. For a dead African has fallen onto the roof, UFOs hover overhead, and an army of ‘alien-human hybrid killing machines’ – all dressed in canary-yellow rain macs – is closing in. Fortunately the locals have a Masai spear, a black belt in Wing-chun and an undercover agent on their side – and if the humour is a bit hit and miss, these folk never stop trying.
“What the fuck’s going on here in Wales?” Nav wonders aloud. “Is this normal?” Hilariously, the biggest problem facing these apocalypse survivalists is the lack of a decent broadband signal in half this Welsh village – which is of course entirely normal. And – who knows? – the sequel that it sets up might well cross Offa’s Dyke to skewer Little England as well.