Tick Reviews: Birdemic – Shock and Terror (2008)
I don’t think it’s a secret at this point that I love bad movies. I’ve made it abundantly clear. I know it may sound almost schizophrenic to say that with some of the negative reviews I’ve given to some horror movies on this blog, but that’s the trick to bad movies. Not just any old piece of shit can qualify as a “good” bad movie. I could probably write a thesis paper detailing the conflicting nature of bad cinema and “good” bad cinema and what separates them. There are lists of criteria, genres and subgenres, do’s and dont’s…..I could go on and on and maybe one day I’ll write an article here on the subject, but that is for another time. For now, let me just say that I know a “good” bad film when I see one and Birdemic is that film.
I was pretty skeptical going into this. Frankly, I’d been avoiding this thing like it was a Transformers film starring Kevin James and a talking CGI kitten voiced by Justin Bieber to go along with those insanely racist jive talking Autobot twins with the monkey faces. Birdemic looked that bad. I saw a couple of ridiculous clips that looked so awful that I assumed it had to be a joke. It looked sub-sub-SyFy and incredibly forced. Throw in the internet hype, the G4 coverage of the “premiere” at some crappy theater in LA, (It actually had it’s world premiere in 2008, but went ignored for almost two years) and mainstream press like EW declaring Birdemic as the new “it” cult film and it all just seemed too forced to me.
Birdemic seemed like a movie that was purposely made as awful as possible for the sole reason of manufacturing a cult hit, which are two of the most annoying things in filmmaking to me. Both things have to happen organically. You can’t force a cult following on a film and you can’t knowingly make a “good” bad film. You have a better chance of making a film for the sole purpose of winning an Oscar and achieving your goal than you do of achieving the other two. Fans of cult and bad films can smell a phony a mile away and will reject it with a vengeance. Birdemic was nudging me and winking about how clever it was. Fuck Birdemic.
Eventually, I heard the opinions of a couple of people whose views on film I trust and respect. They told me Birdemic was the real deal. VERY much the real deal and no matter how much I prepare myself for how incredibly bad it is, I’ll still never expect it to be THAT bad. So, I put it in my Netflix queue and waited for it to come.
It’s the real deal, alright. Saying that there is no way to prepare yourself for how truly, incredibly, awful it is, is indeed an understatement. Saying that it is probably the worst movie ever made, even worse than the legendary Troll 2, isn’t an exaggeration. It’s definitely now my favorite “good” bad movie by far. Best of all, this isn’t a joke. It wasn’t something that was purposely bad or made to gain cult status. Birdemic is a perfect, higher being of complete cinematic incompetence on every level and I mean EVERY level. Birdemic is a master class on film suckage. There is not one iota of filmmaking that isn’t horribly butchered in the worst way possible. Let’s go down the list.
The Story – The plot here is simple. It’s a rip-off of the Hitchcock classic The Birds. Apparently, the nut responsible for Birdemic, James Nguyen, is obsessed with Hitchcock. He conned Tippi Hedren into making an appearance in his first film and his second film was a rip-off (he says update) of Vertigo. This is also an “update” of the classic. By update, I mean he forces in a non-stop parade of environmental issues to lecture us with(which I’ll get back to later.) Of course, Nguyen doesn’t bother to put any scientific facts, common sense or even any sense of reality into his bullet point lectures. At best it sounds like a grade school report that was cobbled together by lazily skimming some google search results.
So, I’m sure you can guess what the telegraphed cause of the bird attacks are. I guess. That’s what a hippy that lives in a tree and an angry scientist that hangs out on the beach tell us at least and that’s as close to an explanation as you’ll get. I’d like the scientist to explain some other things to me. Like, why is it specified that the only birds that are attacking people are eagles and vultures? Are there even that many eagles left in the world? Can eagles really cough up gallons of bright green puke at will and can said puke really dissolve human flesh? Also, why do they seem to follow our main characters everywhere? More importantly, why do the eagles and vultures apparently come from the ocean? Explain that shit, Mr. Scientist.
The bad scientific explanations are hardly the only head scratching things on display. Birdemic is loaded with nonsensical dialogue and decisions. This is a movie so uninterested in making sense that after the characters are attacked every time they step outside, they decide to have a picnic on the beach…TWICE! They find people dead in their cars from bird attacks, but drive everywhere with the windows rolled down. They start out by fighting the birds with clothes hangers even though we later find out that one of the characters, for some reason, has an arsenal of pistols and assault rifles in his van. These are stupid, stupid people.
The thing with a movie called Birdemic, you’d think bird attacks would be the focus of the film, right? Not really. It’s a ninety minute movie and it’s almost an hour before the first bird attack. An HOUR. What happens before that? Sixty minutes of befuddlement as we get the longest character introductions in history. We watch Rod, a technology salesman (I think that was his official title. seriously) goes about his stupid, unbelievable life. We also get to meet fashion model Nathalie and watch her go about her equally stupid and unbelievable life. We also get to see them meet and then decide they want to be together forever after two really awful date scenes, even though any normal person would end a date with either one of them after a few minutes into it.
As ridiculous and unbelievable as the bird scenes are and Nguyen ideas of what are scientific facts, the first hour of “normal” life is even dumber. We see Rod in his really phony looking cubicle as he’s closing a sale with a customer. We hear him tell the customer that he will give him fifty percent off the sale in order to close the deal. He then announces that the sale was for one-million dollars. That means he also gave away one-million dollars. In what world do you give away one-million dollars and not get fired and maybe go to jail? Later we see Rod buy twenty-thousand dollars worth of solar panels for his house. He asks the solar panel salesman for a deal. The guy takes off one-thousand dollars immediately. Rod is happy. Rod should instead be taking notes on what an appropriate sales discount would be. It’s not one million dollars.
That’s just one of many scenes that are nowhere close to reality. We see Rod’s tech company that no one has ever heard of get purchased by Oracle for one-billion dollars. Apparently Dr Evil owns Oracle. We see Nathalie, who is kinda vaguely hot at best, learn she’s to become the new Victoria’s Secret cover model. We see Rod invent his own revolutionary solar panel technology in one afternoon and get ten-million in funding immediately from some random guy. These are the luckiest idiots that ever lived I guess and after an hour of watching this crap, I’m supposed to care about them. I don’t. Then suddenly the birds attack en masse and…eh…whatever. Just watch it.
The Acting – I saw an interview with Nguyen where he said he casts local amateur “talent”. No shit? Wouldn’t have guessed. There’s a lot of bad actors out there. Lots. None as bad as these. Seriously. From top to bottom, main cast to walk on one liners, everyone is atrocious. There is a waitress who cackles out something in some thick Euroscuzz accent that in no way resembles an actual sentence. There is a gas station attendant that mumbles so badly, you have no idea what he said. The two main children are so unenthused that they sound depressed and/or angry. The woman playing Nathalie’s mom obviously can’t remember her lines and is just ad-libbing everything. Several times someone obviously flubs their lines and it’s just left in. People can’t even scream with any authenticity.
The two leads, Alan Bagh and Whitney Moore, seem like they both thought that the best way to play their characters was to just go with vacant. Bagh does it by wearing a completely blank expression for almost the entire run time, occasionally upgrading to a look of confusion. He moves in slow motion most of the time, walking as if he’s in a trance. He speaks in stuttering stops, sounding like a kid in school nervously reading a report in front of the class. I’m pretty sure that Bagh considers personality to be a booger that he doesn’t want to get on him.
Moore goes the other way with her vacant routine. She’s impossibly happy for most of the film, even after the birds attack and she might die. She almost never stops smiling and her big dopey grin grates quickly. Her voice drips sugar with every happy go lucky bit of dialogue as if she were Snow White and the birds were singing for her. At no point does she seem more than barely aware of anything going on around her and I’m not even sure she knows she’s in a movie.
I sympathize that these people have to recite some truly awful dialogue that normal people would never say. Especially the crap that comes out of Rod’s mouth. The scene where Rod and Nathalie are about to have sex is a standout. Nathalie stands before him in her bra and panties and asks “How do I look?” Rod slowly looks her up and down and replies “You look fine” in a completely monotone voice. Nguyen also has some bizarre need to make everyone really polite all of the time. You could play a drinking game with this film, taking shots every time someone says Thank You and you’d be very fucked up by the time the movie ends. Still, these people are awful. At points I truly thought they were robots. Or maybe they thought that their characters were robots.
The Direction & Other Technical Stuff – James Nguyen isn’t just a horrible writer, he’s a horrible director. I’ve honestly never seen one as clueless on every aspect of filmmaking. This guy thinks the proper way to open a movie is to film a car driving impossibly slow on a highway for a good three minutes. It’s just scene after scene of a Mustang driving so slowly that it’s clearly holding up traffic and would get you killed if you actually tried it. There’s no reason for it. It adds nothing to the character or the story. But it just keeps going and going and going and when you think it’s done it goes some more. For no fucking reason.
That’s Nguyen’s idea for a scene. He does this sort of thing several times throughout the film. There are several more long slow driving scenes for no reason. There’s several minutes of filming a pumpkin festival parade for no reason. Before the first bird attack, we see many long pointless shots of houses and towns and farms that are supposed to punctuate the attack, but only bore and confuse. The guy has no idea how to compose a scene or edit one. Way too many scenes go on forever for no reason. There’s a scene where our couple are dancing to the worst song ever (really, wait until you hear it) and it’s just painful to watch. Nathalie dances in a way that is so insanely awkward and spastic that it makes Elaine on Seinfeld’s famous dance look like the finale of Black Swan.
He also has no idea how to block one out. He obviously couldn’t afford to shut down roads or parks for his film, which is understandable. However, if you want me to believe there in an apocalyptic event happening and people are dying and fleeing for the hills, don’t let me see them frolicking on the beach and flying kites in the background. Cut out the people riding by on bikes. Maybe on that abandoned highway where you find cars full of dead people, don’t show the many cars driving by on their way to a fun afternoon. I know Nguyen doesn’t know how to shoot a film, but I’m not even sure he’s ever actually watched a film.
The editing is choppy and sloppy. The sound cuts in and out, going from too loud to non-existent like they were recording with a playschool microphone. The soundtrack actually sounds surprisingly professional at times, yet is never appropriate to what is going on. It veers from something that sounds like it came from a cheerful family comedy to something that should be playing during a patriotic speech in a War movie. I’m pretty sure whoever scored this was watching other movies when they recorded the soundtrack. Either that or Nguyen just stole it from someone. As for the special effects….well, you saw the clip. These are Playstation one graphics. Worse, they’re actually retarded and like everything else in this film, it’s not connected to reality in any way. Birds hover in air, in one spot, for several minutes without moving their wings. Some birds can dive bomb into houses and make them explode while others can’t even get past a coat hanger. At times these things don’t even look like birds at all.
The Summation – Now, all this may sound like this is something I hated. Wrong. It may also sound like something that’s a chore to sit through. Double wrong. Birdemic is a fucking hoot. By the time you get five minutes into this, you’re rolling with laughter at just how truly bug shit crazy the movie is and you’re hooked. It truly is the most WTF movie that I’ve ever watched and it’s completely genuine. This isn’t a joke. It’s deathly serious and incredibly sincere. Nguyen is so serious about what he’s doing and what he’s trying to say that the movie is actually very preachy in parts, which would get sort of annoying if it wasn’t so clumsy and stupid in how it does it. James Nguyen is completely, utterly incompetent as a filmmaker. He has absolutely no understanding of films whatsoever. Yet, he is fully determined to make a great a piece of art and he’s sure he’s on the right path. That’s sort of endearing and absolutely entertaining. He’s at least achieved immortal status now, because Birdemic is now the best of the worst. Everyone absolutely needs to see Birdemic. I guarantee you’ll be entertained and awed by it.