Under Review: ‘Birdemic: Shock and Terror’


Occasionally when I’m watching a movie, I’ll notice cars driving in the background on a stretch of road that clearly wasn’t blocked off to the general public during the shoot, usually because it’s too great a distance away to be disruptive. I think that people would be delighted to find out that their car was in a movie without them ever realizing it, just because they happened to take a certain road at a certain time during a certain take. Surely people drive by film shoots all the time, craning their necks for a couple of seconds to catch a glimpse of an actor mid-shootout in some cordoned-off alley two blocks away.

There are many scenes in “Birdemic: Shock and Terror” in which vehicles travel by, blissfully unaware that they’re having a humourous effect on an unintentionally awful film. In one particular moment, a group of actors are fighting off violent computer-animated birds with machine guns in an attempt to rescue a pair of kids: a young girl hiding under a truck and a boy trapped in the trunk of a car. Close by, steady streams of traffic move idly, oblivious to the presence of any birds, probably wondering what these maniacs with weapons are doing dragging around children with cuts on their faces. They probably noticed the camera and chalked it up to California.

Where to start but the beginning? Rod (Alan Bagh) is a computer programmer turned successful software salesman. He runs into an old high school chum, sexy Victoria Secret model Nathalie (Whitney Moore), she with the supportive mother. Their early scenes together comprise what I only assume is the “shock” portion of “Birdemic,” insofar as their burgeoning relationship is shocking in its utter banality. The couple seem to be on a first date that never ends, continuing to have conversations about their basic hopes and dreams for weeks, captured on trips to the Art and Pumpkin Festival and whilst dancing at the worst karaoke bar on the planet. Rod is a total bore, and kind of pushy, with ambitions to start his own solar panel business.

Things take a drastic turn into “terror” at the film’s midway point. No sooner has Rod finally gotten to second base with Nathalie than a horde of eagles descends on them like something out of a Hunter S. Thompson acid trip. The animation on the birds is akin to a Windows 95-era screensaver in terms of quality. The amount of energy generated to suspend the disbelief that would put these people on the same plane of existence with those birds would be enough to make solar power a moot enterprise. They keep coming on a whim, their loud shrieks playing in a loop, while Rod, Nathalie and others open fire with machines guns from their van windows in an effort to make it nowhere in particular.

One of the many odd angles of “Birdemic,” not including its arbitrary crane work and establishing shots that linger to embarrassing lengths, is its hard left stance on global warming. Foreboding (and off-centre) news reports detail the melting of the polar icecaps and forest fire outbreaks. A doctor explains that the bird attacks are a reaction to humanity’s mistreatment of the earth, though despite his linear reasoning he has no “scientific evidence” to back it up. One character takes a moment to admit that he’s an ex-Marine who “got tired of all the killing in Iraq.” That explains the guns. After spending $100 on a gallon of gasoline (the eagle attacks have raised the price of fuel), Rod is robbed by a burly southern cowboy (Joe Teixeira) at gunpoint, and then encounters a “tree hugger” (Stephen Gustavson) who professes his heartfelt thoughts on the bark beetle.

Liberals and Conservatives alike will be bewildered by the treatment of these political hot-button issues and stereotypes. Directed by James Nguyen, “Birdemic” reeks of unprofessional honesty. The sound is a mess, popping in and out noticeably. The score is a wild mix of bad synths, idyllic stock symphony pieces and copyright-strangling homages to “Imagine” by John Lennon. Nguyen, reportedly a die-hard fan of Hitchcock (sure he is), has no sense of match on action, making cuts that repeatedly screw up continuity. He never, ever stops panning his camera. The film’s look and feel on the whole is equal to a ’70s instructional filmstrip on hygiene shown to bored kids in order to distract them from sexual activity.

The credit of “worst movie ever made” has long been implemented to sell cult films. (According to the Internet Movie Database, that honour currently goes to “Night Train to Mundo Fine.”) Chances are the worst film ever made is sitting in the bottom of some former failed film student’s closet. Movies like “Birdemic” reach the public through the inherent charm in their badness; in this case, it’s the cartoonishly shoddy effects work and drastic turn in tone that deliver the kicks. The added crucial element is the fact that Nguyen obviously believed very much in what he was doing.

How much you enjoy “Birdemic: Shock and Terror” will be in direct proportion to the crowd you see it with. As such, I didn’t enjoy seeing it as much as Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room,” which at least had the benefit of an established fan base, a ludicrous budget and the bizarrely intriguing performance of Wiseau himself. Still relatively new to Ottawa and to most audiences, Nguyen’s film hasn’t yet had enough time to develop the kind of “Rocky Horror” participatory response that “The Room” has enjoyed in its slow seven-year build. It may get there in time, with coat hangers straightened and feathers flying.

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