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Birdemic: Shock and Terror

I scarcely know how to begin describing this picture. Partly, that’s because I don’t have the vocabulary to adequately describe something so painful. Additionally, between the movie itself and the booze I needed to sit through it, there’s no telling how many brain cells I lost in the viewing.

I suppose I could talk about the origins of Birdemic: Shock and Terror, but there really isn’t much to say. This film is the brainchild of James Nguyen, a Vietnamese transplant who works as a software salesman. Nguyen never had any formal film training, but he grew up with a deep admiration for the works of Alfred Hitchcock. Birdemic was Nguyen’s third movie, after Julie and Jack (about virtual reality) and Replica (about bioscience) were both released in total obscurity.

Birdemic was headed for a similar fate after the Sundance Film Festival refused to screen it in 2008. In response, Nguyen coated his van in fake blood, slapped a promo poster against the side, then drove around Sundance while bird noises blared out the speakers. His antics somehow caught the attention of Severin Films, an indie DVD company that specializes in restoring and distributing old exploitation movies. Severin screened the film on tour in 2010 and gave the film a proper DVD/Blu-Ray release in 2011. And the film has already gained notoriety as one of the best worst movies of all time.

I would respectfully disagree with that assessment, however. There’s nothing “best” about it.

The first four minutes of this film were enough to make me panic. The opening credits sequence is shot entirely from a car’s dashboard, so of course it’s shaky and boring to look at. The credits are shown by way of title cards that were clearly made with the cheapest software available. The score consists of the same 32-second MIDI clip being played repeatedly (and yes, I did actually time that). Last but not least, the editing is pretty much non-existent. This means that there is absolutely no relief from the cheap, amateurish, ugly tedium on the screen.

I’m sure that Nguyen was trying to evoke the driving sequences in The Birds, as the movie is obviously a misguided attempt at paying homage to the Hitchcock classic. He gave Tippi Hedren a screen credit for appearing in some recycled Birds footage, for God’s sake. However, as the driving sequence is both monotonous and placed in the movie’s opening credits, the easier comparison would be with Manos: The Hands of Fate. And any movie that evokes Manos out of the gate is already doomed for failure.

Still, Manos barely had any opening title cards, and I honestly prefer that to title cards that were so insultingly cheap. Moreover, at least that movie had the good sense to put in a few cuts, instead of holding on the same godawful shot for four straight minutes. Last but not least, even after all the crappy films I’ve seen this week, Birdemic still has the worst fucking score I’ve ever heard in my life.

Oh, and you know what makes it even worse? The fact that there’s a second worthless driving sequence not even ten minutes in!!!

*deep breath* Okay, let me at least try to be fair. I can understand why Nguyen wanted to put in so many shots of SoCal traffic, considering that the film is supposed to be a commentary on global warming. Yes, much like Ed Wood before him, James Nguyen sought to make a film in which humanity is made to suffer for our stupid, stupid ways. In this case, however, doomsday comes to us by way of homicidal birds who have somehow gained the ability to spit acid and blow themselves up. Also, the birds look like they were rendered in Windows 95.

Then again, judging by the website for Nguyen’s production company, I’m pretty sure the guy isn’t familiar with any technology made in the 21st century.

The birds are obviously the main selling point for this feature, but they don’t play any kind of significant role until the second half. In the meantime, I had to sit through 45 minutes of pure torture. To start with, the sound design is laughably uneven. The film often mutes itself at random intervals, and the dialogue is either inaudible or chopped off in places. It’s like the movie is being sabotaged by its own sound design. The dialogue and effects in Manos were entirely dubbed, and even that film had better sound design!

Then there’s the editing. Glaring continuity errors aside, I’ve seen lines at the DMV move at a faster pace than this POS. I never would have thought that so much padding could fit in a 90-minute movie. The camerawork is already atrocious, and it’s made so much worse when the film holds on the same shot for prolonged amounts of time, even when there’s absolutely nothing happening.

Regarding the characters, the movie bears some uncomfortable similarities to Troll 2. Both screenplays were clearly written by someone with no comprehension of the English language. Both movies are populated with boring, paper-thin characters who don’t have a single intelligent thought to share between them. Both films were apparently cast with the logic that if the actors merely looked their parts, then the rest would naturally follow. Yet somehow, the performances in this film are even worse. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone look so stiff and unnatural. These people don’t even seem human, much less sympathetic or relateable.

James Nguyen likes to call himself “The Master of the Romantic Thriller” (no bullshit, he’s got that trademarked), but this film totally fails as a romance and as a thriller. I couldn’t possibly get invested in the relationships of such boring characters, and the film’s attempts at “sex scenes” couldn’t possibly be less sexy. The Room had Tommy pug-ugly Wiseau humping away at some chick’s navel, and that was still more of a turn-on than watching these characters fumble around in their swimsuits on a bed.

Speaking of which: During one sex scene, there’s a huge poster that plugs imaginepeace.com for no adequately explained reason. In typical Nguyen style, the poster just states the website address on plain black font against white paper, and there’s nothing else to it. From what I’ve read, this is Yoko Ono’s website. Nguyen put it in there as a tribute to John Lennon and the artist’s vision of world peace. That the tribute makes no goddamned sense is of course beside the point.

The worst, however, I’ve saved for the last: The movie’s godawful plotting. As evidence, consider our main characters. Rod (Alan Bagh) is a software salesman who just closed a million-dollar deal. Also, because he has stock options with his company, Rod and his coworkers are made into instant millionaires when their company is bought out by a massive conglomerate. Meanwhile, Nathalie (Whitney Moore) is a fashion model who just landed a front-cover gig with Victoria’s Secret. The two of them meet by sheer coincidence, they begin dating, and they fall in love. They like each other, and everyone likes them just fine.

Notice anything missing with the above synopsis? You know, things like conflict, crisis, rising action, falling action, suspense, comedy, character development, or ANYTHING THAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS?! The first 45 minutes of this movie are absolutely insufferable because they don’t have anything that remotely resembles a story. Through half the movie, we’re following perfect little characters living perfect little lives. It’s emotionally distancing, it breaks all suspension of disbelief, and it has the entertainment value of watching ice melt.

Oh, and here’s a little insult on top of the injury: With the exception of Rod and Nathalie, not a single character in the first half has any significant role to play once the birds finally come in.

Yes, the killer birds finally get to wreak havoc at the halfway point, but that’s long since irrelevant. If getting to the actual story takes half of the film’s entire running time, then the screenplay’s structure and pacing are already FUBAR. There is no remaining hope that anything could possibly get better.

As for the birds themselves, everything you need to know about them is contained in this clip.

  1. The movie (like so many others I’ve written about this week) fails to work as a horror because the monsters look so laughably fake.
  2. The eagles don’t do anything except hover there. Not only is this totally unbelievable, but it removes all possibility of harm. Not only does this further ruin the horror aspect, but it also means that the attempts at action fall flat.
  3. The actors, the birds, and the camera all stay pretty much completely still. Thus, the scene is devoid of any movement or choreography, both fundamental ingredients of cinematic action. The complete lack of score doesn’t help, either.
  4. I hope you liked all that screeching, because you’re gonna hear it ’til your ears bleed. From the very moment those birds show up, the movie is flooded with those same high-pitched screeches drowning out everything else as they repeat over and over.
  5. The effects in this movie are so awful that it’s easy to picture the scene without any eagles there. We can plainly see the actors swiping coat hangers at thin air. It’s so pathetic that personally, I’d feel sorry for laughing at it.
  6. If the birds were any kind of plausible threat, coat hangers would never have worked in the first place.

I could go into detail about all the other unintentionally hilarious moments in this movie, but what’s the point? I could go on about how the guns never run out of bullets and how no one ever seems to hit anything except birds, but why bother? I could talk about the film’s thick-headed and preachy attempts at social commentary, but who would seriously listen to anything this godawful movie has to say?

The sad truth is that even after the birds come in, this movie never gets any better. The pacing continues to drag, the visuals are still laughably cheap, and all the mayhem that’s supposed to be going on only makes the actors look worse. From the very outset, this movie was beyond any hope of redemption.

Oh, and just to add a cherry on top of this gravel sundae, the film doesn’t have an ending. One moment, the birds are hunting down our protagonists in a half-assed attempt at a climax. The next moment, the birds just turn 180 degrees and fly off into the sunset. The birds just up and quit their assault, and no effort is made to explain why. From there, we hold on a shot of the birds flying away for something like two solid minutes until the credits roll. In this way, the film ends as slowly and incomprehensibly as it began.

With all of that said, I do hold some shred of appreciation for James Nguyen. Though the film is overwhelmingly bad, it isn’t malicious or mean-spirited in any way. This was very clearly the work of an ambitious and well-intentioned man, and I respect that. I just wish that Nguyen wasn’t some deranged and delusional maniac without a single iota of talent.

Birdemic: Shock and Terror should never have existed. Though the birds provide some unintentional hilarity, this movie is completely unwatchable. The sound design is impossibly bad, the editing is atrocious, the dialogue is painful, the social commentary is stupidly pretentious, the actors’ performances are all embarrassing, and the 90-minute runtime has enough inflation to raise the Titanic. As with Manos, this movie should only be watched with a group of snarky friends, because you’ll need to find some way of keeping yourself entertained through all the empty space. This movie is void of entertainment value, which means that it’s only as good as the jokes you bring to it.

Because the film is so new, there hasn’t been much in the way of tributes or fan media. However, Nguyen improbably found a fan in Jeff Gross, the former Media Director of Animal Welfare for City of Los Angeles. Even better, Gross raised enough money so that Nguyen could produce — wait for it — Birdemic 2: The Resurrection. Yes, this turd got a sequel just last April, and Nguyen is reportedly considering a third film as I type this.

And before you ask, NO!!! You guys are not paying me enough to put up with this crap a second time, much less a third.

2 Comments

  1. Comment by Joshua:

    Fantastic reviews of these bad films. I commend you highly for looking into each of them in much greater detail. Honestly, I think The Cavern is an example of an unwatchable film that not only insults the viewer but also spits at them with its vile ending. That is much worse than a film like Birdemic, Manos or The Room where they are only laughably bad and easy to snark at. Thankfully, Matthew Buck reviewed it so that no one else could to spare them of this garbage.

  2. Comment by Curiosity Inc.:

    Thanks for reading, my friend. I haven’t seen any of Film Brain’s reviews in a while, so I’ll have to check that one out.

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