Director Nik Fackler came to the attention of the cinematic world in 2008 with Lovely, Still, a delicate story that he co-wrote about two senior citizens falling in love. A fine film by any stretch, and not the kind of work you would expect from a then 23-year-old. Nor does it set the table for Fackler’s current project: Sick Birds Die Easy, a drug-addled pseudo-documentary that explores cultural imperialism and spiritual enlightenment in the jungles of Gabon. The idea behind this film was to bring Fackler and a group of his ridiculous friends into Africa to seek out the iboga root, a supposed hallucinogen that is being touted as aid to help cure people of drug and alcohol dependency. We don’t get to watch anyone really experience iboga, though. We get some firsthand experiences related via quick interview snippets, but otherwise, the story is about Westerners stumbling through the jungle in a pot, LSD, and Oxycontin-fueled haze.
Things get knotty in the film when the main subjects of this adventure try to relate to one another and the world that they treat like a small playground. Fackler’s friends — his weed dealer Ross, trustafarian musician Sam, and Sam’s lady friend Emily — are a surly lot. Ross spends much of the film at loggerheads with everyone around him, when he’s not spelling out some kind of conspiracy theory and supposedly drinking his own urine on camera. The target of much of his bile is Sam, an entitled douchebag who is there to provide the soundtrack for the film. The two spend much of the journey in various states of paranoia, accusing the other of stealing drugs from their respective stash, or arguing grumpily about the authenticity of their worldviews. It gets so bad in one scene that Sam, to prove some cockamamie point about how he’s not controlled by his unearned wealth, takes all the cash from his wallet and tosses it on a fire, leading their two Gabonese guides to rightfully freak out at his indifference.
What never becomes clear is how much of this we’re supposed to take as pure reportage and how much was cooked up by Fackler and his crew. At one point, one of the group’s guides becomes violently ill and supposedly dies in his sleep. Rather than seeking help or even freaking out in some small way, the group decides to simply leave him there in the woods and continue with their journey. Like that scene, Sick Birds Die Easy makes a strong statement about Western culture trampling on that of the developing world, but that gets lost in the sniping, backbiting, and acid dropping going on around it.