Horror, which over the years of history has turned from a legitimate source of entertainment into a cheap thrill in the public eye, is a genre I love. In terms of film, I love it for two distinct reasons separating any experience I get from a horror movie – If it’s not a good movie, I get honestly a great sense of cynicism tearing it apart from how it does not work, looking inside and figuring out how it represents the horror culture in the end to what always looks like its final grave. But then, when you find a real diamond in the rough, a real gem, something legitimately scary. Then you’re going to get somewhere with finding out how it makes your hair stand, your skin crawl, then you’re going to watch reactions after finding out and discover to your joy… the trick still works.
For the next 31 days, I will be giving a day by day review of select horror films in all of the spectrum, from slasher to “Gates of Hell”, from Poe to Barker, from Whale to West, from 1919 to 2014…
This is the 31 Nights of Halloween. So, I’ve spent so much time trying to give horror pictures a look that grants most of them the credibility I would hope they deserve that I figured, well, why not go ahead and take on one of the most that righteously tramples on the genre? And if I’m going to do this, I might as well go whole-hog or go home. And well, my “review” of this film is just me saying fuck it to this movie. So allow me to be able to elaborate on my views a little further.
I shouldn’t need to elaborate on my feelings towards Birdemic: Shock and Terror more than that, but I will try to indulge you guys as best as possible.
James Nguyen swears this movie looks like a million dollar motion picture “from a distance”. I swear he needs some glasses, because I know he’s not joking. But he can certainly afford them at this point.
Before I go into everything so fucking gone wrong with Birdemic: Shock and Terror easily one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen in my life and a waste of time on account of how much I don’t find it funny in that “so bad, it’s good” way, I should start from the comparative success story of James Nguyen: Independent Filmmaker!
Nguyen was raised off of movies similar to yours truly. Namely Hitchcock. Namely The Birds. Which, far be it from my intention to trash a movie by my favorite director, but holy crap if you were raised off of The Birds and liked it, you must’ve been weened at, like, age 13 because that movie is quite frankly terrible. But he also was raised off of Vertigo, so he wasn’t a totally lost case. Despite his passion for filmmaking, he never went with formal movie production training and instead got an actual job as a software salesman that eventually landed him square in Silicon Valley. Lucky little shit.
But bit by the urge to create cinema masterpieces that he could look back on, he eventually grabbed a damn camera and started shooting movies anyway, getting to a point where he had two – count ’em! – two low-budget full-length features under his belt, one of them with the gracious presence of The Birds star Tippi Hedren in them, though one of them went unreleased (and allegedly is unfinished). But hey, Hitchcock has some unfinished films in his closet too! Number 13 anybody?
Then, the big one… Nguyen suddenly had the inspiration to go ahead and craft a 10,000 dollar motion picture able to capture the full scope of life under the California smog and lights and move the hearts and minds of its viewers with shit Nguyen learned by one time renting An Inconvenient Truth.
Lo and behold, Birdemic: Shock and Terror was a motherfucking uphill struggle to make – taking a four year production and financed entirely by Nguyen himself. Which, y’know, while that time span makes Francis Ford Coppola seem like Speedy Gonzalez with the camera, it’s not like it damns the movie. Eraserhead‘s five-year production anyone?
After the production, well, the movie was rejected by Sundance in 2009, because well… the judges at Sundance are hardly complete idiots. Undeterred, Nguyen went out of his way to market and campaign locally in Salt Lake City at the time for a local theater showing a film called “BIDEMIC” telling the harrowing story of “WHY DID THE EAGLES AND THE VULTURES ATTACKED?”. That’s verbatim what the promotional material said. I’m not making this shit up. But that’s fine, lots of works have some pretty grammatically incorrect stylings of their name as artistic flourishes. All You Need Is Kill and Inglourious Basterds anybody? (Not a flourish, though, Nguyen just sixteenth-assed the marketing like he does every other thing about this movie).
Eventually the word of mouth of how terrible this movie is boosted it to public notoriety and it eventually got the popular screenings it wanted. Ones sponsored by Tim and Eric, ones sponsored by Bloody Disgusting, ones in LA, ones is New York, one at the ALAMO DRAFTHOUSE. And it might be a dream come true for many and probably was for Nguyen – since he seems to be unaware of one incredibly apparent factor…
He was a laughingstock. He was made out to be the William Hung of film for Birdemic: Shock and Terror and he seems unable to either embrace or even understand that.
So, to briefly go over, the story of Birdemic: Shock and Terror, it is an amalgamation of everything I hate about The Birds (of which it almost feels like a remake of), Left Behind, and The Walking Dead. Like seriously everything I hate about those works. So, cripplingly-bad-at-walking software salesman Rod (some mannequin named Alan Bagh) and 1-hour photo model Nathalie (some other mannequin named Whitney Moore) are hitting it off pretty well in their relationship that, like The Birds, takes a good fucking 30 to 45 minutes to get past before birds actually start attackeding (sic to make James Nguyen feel better). Before the plot of the movie actually begins, the movie is already shooing in its suffocatingly smug themes of environmental care, more than any recent Serj Tankian song could be (I love Serj Tankian for the record and I also think there is a nobility and virtue in environmental nurture, but… dammit), much like Left Behind didn’t waste any time prior to the point of the book/film/hell in telling us how much better its values are than ours and that we should adopt them before we get doomed. Tagging along some incredibly disposable supporting characters, like two kids I almost forgot until I got this point of typing, and an ex-Marine and his girlfriend so that they have a reason to include terrible gunfire inserts along with their terrible bird effects. The six of them aimlessly wander around while occasionally fighting birds and then occasionally dealing with somebody who would have more to say on either the bird attacks or the environment, because y’know the movie thinks they are the same problem. Nature will peck your eyes out. So almost like The Walking Dead. (Just to note: I’m trying my best to not curse as much on this blog, so the amount of times I had to delete “fuck” out of this review already since I got here is too damn high.)
Anyway, that’s how I made it out alive through this movie.
Remember how I mentioned his one and a half movie directing experience? No, it doesn’t show. Remember when I said Nguyen never had formal moviemaking training? Yeah, it shows. Remember how I mentioned the movie was made for 10,000 dollars? It looks like it was made for less.
Let’s get the most notorious thing about this movie out of the way, how it looks. Let’s look at a nice little clip from the movie, shall we? Don’t worry, it’s just a minute long, I’m a sadist here.
Words can’t really describe it, but I’ll try. The camera is worse than my phone’s. It is obviously obsolete by even 2009 standards (five years ago, but we’ve come a very long way in consumer cameras). But hey, a cinematographer (this one is Daniel Mai – sorry to put you on the spot, but I demand an apology from you too) is only as good as his lighting and it’s clear they didn’t try, since the only lighting we get is solar… not even practical. Practicals in this film are saved for when the sun can’t cover the scene’s ass and, well, they’re just as poorly used there. Not just here, but all over the movie. Over the course of the film, we get lens flare, revealing shadows and even the damning reflection of a cell phone screen on someone’s face. At points, like conversation scenes, the camera can’t decide on whether it wants to sit still or drift off, and when it drifts off, it doesn’t really have a purpose to. You remember the drifting camera in the Winkie’s scene from Mulholland Dr.?
Yeah, Birdemic doesn’t really seem to know it’s doing that and why as opposed to the dream-like intent of Lynch in Mulholland Dr. The camera drift is so obviously misunderstood that he can’t even follow cars with their anti-Steadicam attempts at being a dynamic cinematographer.
But you know, some of these embarrassing facets of the film could have been saved by just having a decent editor, because it’s largely clear where one should have cut away and where one should have placed shots to be a bit more, well, aesthetically pleasing. But it seems Kim Chow was just looking to arrange the shots in semi-chronological order and go home, leaving complete gaps in dialogue exchanges that leave meetings, discussions, and dates totally awkward. And even leaving shots on screen for longer than they should be, like points where we can swear Nguyen called cut behind the camera and the actors were waiting for their next cue. Kim also uses crossfades like the one we saw in the clip, normally reserved for time lapses or scene transistions, whenever the flipping fuck-a-doodle he feels like using it. Like between shots taking place in the same damn scene, like the clip showed. And y’know, compositing effects and titles were pretty much the lowest common denominator in terms of effort. There are webcam videos with more sophistication. I’d like to say he didn’t try to get an sense of pacing, but I’m mixed on whether to blame Kim for not knowing the full responsibilities of an editor (continuity, pacing, covering up bad details, fluidity, the stuff children who were raised by wolves know) or Nguyen for possibly breathing down his neck telling him “YOU NEED TO HAVE EVERYTHING I SHOT! Oh and nice crossfade.” The editor just didn’t even try, much like the cinematographer. How much of that 10,000 dollars did they get?
I’d like to say something about the effects, but isn’t it kind of obvious? Your Movie Sucks said it best, it looks like the characters are being attacked by screensavers, looping like the shots and music keep doing.
But let’s be real, those dialogue scenes would have been awkward based on the robotic acting – where the birds have more nuance to them than anything Bagh and company can hold and well with all the enthusiasm as I had when I graduated college (psst… no enthusiasm, I famously fell asleep at commencement and didn’t attend my convocation to instead go to Cannes) – and the script by Nguyen which is just littered with tangents prior to the birds attacking and episodic material after the birds begin attacking. Awkward dialogue that leads to practically stopping the movie just to either pretend to develop the relationship of Rod and Nathalie or pushing in again the environment-friendly message. And well, the movie just sort of stops after the 20 hours it spa– I mean, 100 minutes… wait, 92? You’re serious? 92 minutes of the movie and it just drops itself. I lost track of the plotless confusion. That’s how bad everything in the writing is, from how blatantly anti-storytelling the script is to the shit these people say. At least, I would think so, if we could hear what they were saying…
Oh wait, that’s right, the audio is worse than the camera. The sound is dropped more than calls on a subway. And mixed awfully enough to be unable to fix ambient noise like traffic in the background when the world is supposed to be destroyed by these birds! Or to hide when the public domain library music is looping like nothing. Or to make the sounds make sense with what’s on-screen like associating birds with WWII Kamikaze fighters. Or to y’know mesh what is happening between the birds, the humans, the gunfire, and well, the atmosphere without making it clear how layered the audio is, so everybody knows you kind of earned a D- in your effort and “Great Godalmightycock, what the fuck have you brought us?” in results.
There. I think I hopefully addressed every objective element of Birdemic: Shock and Terror to make a case against it, even though sadly enough, I feel I wasted time telling you guys something you would know just by looking at the damn trailer. But since the world agrees on how terrible Birdemic: Shock and Terror is and few are willing to articulate it, I figure I’d give a shot. Badly. But, yeah, it’s not just an objectively terrible film, it is a complete anti-film. It is what happens when all the flawlessly worst possible things to happen in a production happen and the director does not care to fix it or use it to his advantage for humor. It is the uncharming version of Samurai Cop, the amateur’s Battlefield Earth.
And I know most of this crap is meant to make someone laugh, much like how The Room makes people laugh from how bad it is, but it doesn’t work for me. It just doesn’t. I can’t suffer this movie again and I refuse to. Why?
Well, for one, as I made clear, James Nguyen does not think he’s done anything wrong, believes he actually has made himself a great film and thinks the world agrees with him. He still calls it a romantic thriller. And while I won’t really lie if confronted by him face-to-face, I don’t see a point in either jeering or adding to a joke that will surely destroy him the moment he finds out the truth about how the world thinks about the movie. It feels like picking on the most unfortunate kid in school by that shameful prank where you’d pretend to be his best friend and then staple a kick me sign to his bare back after giving him a frontal wedgie.
The other is how goddamned preachy the movie is because it feels it is hot shit despite itself. And I’m sure a lot of people are able to overlook the fact that an environmental message is laced in every damn scene in a completely unsubtle manner… people selling each other solar panels, underscore of a cover instrumental of John Lennon’s “Imagine”, the characters seeing An Inconvenient Truth on a double date, the ex-Marine demanding why we can’t give peace a chance, outright blaming global warming for the attacks… I’d have to make a separate article listing all the drops of Birdemic: Shock and Terror‘s shoves at the environment and that would require watching the movie again and FUCK THAT. But you get where I’m going at. The movie doesn’t know its such a cartoon, it feels like it actually has the authority to tell us that everything we do to live our life the way we do is completely wrong and that birds will fucking kill us for it. Come on, even if I agree with you, I’m not going to take you seriously if your attempts to spread a message involve telling me about your ingenue lead’s mother and having me deal with her in a poorly-shot-lit-and-cut scene that adds nothing to the movie whatsoever. South Park gets away with it by being extremely hilarious. I won’t give you the damned pleasure.
You know, I kind of ended up comparing Birdemic: Shock and Terror to Serj Tankian, Vertigo, Eraserhead, Mulholland Dr., & South Park in this one review and yet none of that could save it. But hell, it’s the best movie in the world, I guess, for that. Still don’t watch it. Or do it. I dare you.
“Don’t half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.” -Ron Swanson
“I’m going to half-ass one thing. And then half-ass half-assing it.” -Probably James Nguyen
“Aw, fuck, I typed out fuck again. Fuck me. This movie has me on the fucking edge.” -Me while writing this review.