Review: Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #692

Number of Views: Two Too Many
Release Date: February 27, 2010
Sub-Genre: Eco-Horror
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $10,000
Running Time: 93 minutes
Director: James Nguyen
Producers: James Nguyen, Tim Ubels
Screenplay: James Nguyen
Visual Effects: Yeung Chan
Cinematography: Daniel Mai
Score: Andrew Seger
Editing: Kim Chow
Studio: Moviehead Pictures
Distributor: Severin Films
Stars: Alan Bagh, Whitney Moore, Janae Caster, Colton Osborne, Adam Sessa, Catherine Batcha, Rick Camp, Stephen Gustavson, Patsy van Ettinger, Mona Lisa Moon, Danny Webber, Tippi Hedren (archive footage)

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Damien Carter “Just Hanging Out”

[2] The Carpenters “Close To You”

[3] Chamber of Pudd “This Is Birdemic”

[4] The Trashmen “Surfin’ Bird”

I’m a firm believer that not all pleasure should necessarily be innocent. A great example of this would be Tommy Wiseau’s semi-autobiographical 2003 movie, The Room, a film so woefully inept that it’s also bizarrely compulsive. I would liken spending 99 minutes in the company of Wiseau and friends to observing a train wreck in slow motion. You want to look away, feel that it is your civilian duty to do so, but cannot drag your eyes away for a solitary second.

Indeed, despite making around $1200 at the box-office against a reported budget of $6 million, Wiseau’s film went on to amass a humongous cult following, and James Franco adored it so much that he recently completed an affectionate biopic named The Disaster Artist to celebrate its awfulness. Ironically, early reports are that it’s bloody good and for all the right reasons. In a perfect world, Franco would get the Best Actor nod from the Academy. Indeed, I’d pay half a kidney or a third of my spleen just to see Wiseau tripping up the red carpet.

Horror fans are more than generously catered for with regards to so-bad-it’s-good movies. Three that spring instantly to mind are Claudio Fragasso’s Troll 2, Phillipe Mora’s Howling II: Your Sister is A Werewolf and Lee Harry’s Silent Night, Deadly Night 2, and a trio of more festering cheeses would be difficult to find. That said, they’re also effortlessly entertaining and impossible not to love, albeit secretly. I’ve actually appraised the first two already and felt obliged to cut them an extraordinary length of slack based on just how ludicrously fun they happen to be.

And that is the key to making a bad movie – wearing down your audience with gaffe after gaffe, while remembering to make that shit playful. Hell, look at the five-strong and counting Sharknado franchise for a perfect example of how to take a huge cinematic dump and somehow convince audiences to give it a sniff. God bless the midnight movie. PS: You owe me 93 minutes of my life back. 

So what could be more terrifying than an inbound sharknado? Well that’s easy, a full-blown birdemic of course. Since Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds landed in 1963, we’ve all been wary of our feathered friends and it was only natural that some keen ornithologist would eventually look to emulate its success and impact. Wherever Hitchcock is now, I’m sure he’s greatly relieved that, five decades later, his film is still at the top of the tree with regards to movies about birds of prey gone haywire.

However, thanks to “visionary” Vietnamese filmmaker, James Nguyen, he now has some competition. I’d say it was stiff, but in truth, the only thing rigid here (aside from the abysmal performances of an entire cast without exception) are the titular birds themselves. Does Birdemic: Shock and Terror suck I hear you say? My dear friends, you don’t even know the half of it.

Okay so I guess a good starting point would be the opening credits (inclusive of typos and phantom cast members who dare not actually show their faces). Five minutes in and the most notable event has been a poorly shot leisurely drive through Silicon Valley, absolutely bereft of incident. Now would be an ideal time to roll out the humans and Nguyen eventually does precisely that, although I wouldn’t bother searching filthy rich software salesman Rod (Alan Bagh) for a pulse, as the best he can offer is a mild throb of embarrassment.

Rod’s fortunes soon take another turn for the more outrageous as he runs into old flame and aspiring Victoria’s Secret model Tippi… I mean Nathalie (Whitney Moore), and the pair inexplicably hit it off, regardless of the fact that neither possess the faintest lick of personality. Love is seemingly in the air but unbeknownst to either of them or the inhabitants of Half Moon Bay, it’s got company. Cue suspenseful music.

You see, a horde of mutated birds have decided to pay this sleepy town a visit and the inconvenient truth is that soon all hell will be breaking loose in the form of death from above. Could this be Nguyen’s subversive attempt at social commentary about the perils of global warming? Not so fast James, I’m all for giving credit where it’s due, but I highly doubt your end goal was quite that pre-meditated. Nice try though.

For the record, the birds in question don’t actually appear until the halfway point, leaving just over forty-five minutes to attempt to gouge out our eyeballs with a dessert spoon. Once they do, Birdemic: Shock and Terror shifts gears from neutral to first and stalls before we can so much as wipe the eagle excrement from our windscreens. Come to think of it, I reckon that’s where all the budget went.

I’d love to say they swoop but the reality is that hovering with intent is about all these particular bird-brains can muster. Indeed, mobility is so woefully limited that these poorly digitized flapping fucks appear trapped between a sheet of imperceivable glass and make absolutely no attempt to launch an attack. 

Occasionally one will simply drop from the sky (presumably out of either fatigue or boredom) and we are left to watch on in gaping awe as their many victims fuss, fret, and ultimately stand around like statues and accept their airborne fates. To be fair, there is a fair wedge of guilt-riddled amusement to be gleaned from these exchanges, and Nguyen stretches his meager resources to the max by including shockingly fake muzzle flashes and the odd random superimposed explosion, the likes of which no amount of seeing could ever hope to make believable.

So we’ve ascertained that Birdemic: Shock and Terror is the cinematic equivalent of a pile of steaming goose phlegm but is it so-bad-it’s good when all is said and done? I mean, the ingredients are clearly there for a beer and buddies masterpiece right? It pains me to say that the answer to this question is as resounding a no as they come and I can almost hear the leagues of devoted fans straightening their coat hangers in anger as we speak. God help me once they scroll down to the final score. Better go top up the bird house.

Granted, it’s fun in super short spurts, but so is masturbating with a cheese grater but that doesn’t mean it won’t get snagged in your pubes. The bottom line here is that Nguyen’s movie is as dull and lifeless as the subjects of its epidemic and making it through 93 agonizingly drawn out minutes without suffering a ruptured embolism or mild stroke is far more of an achievement than it should be.

Hilariously, it managed to spawn a sequel, Birdemic 2: The Resurrection, three years later and the only thing this proved is that lightning can indeed strike twice in the same spot. Using all the experience he had gained from his first foray into filmmaking, Nguyen shat out a carbon copy every bit as catastrophic as its predecessor. To give you some kind of idea the depths stooped to, I bring you a screenshot from the sequel’s now infamous “jellyfish ambush” scene to offer a clue as to just how realistic the effects are. 3D glasses at the ready folks and I apologise unreservedly in advance to anyone with a deep-rooted fear of marine life.

I just suffered a Jaws 3D flashback. Chilling… real chilling. The ten thousand dollar question now is – with two Birdemics already safely under his belt, is Nguyen looking to complete the trilogy anytime soon and it may surprise you to learn that I truly hope he is granted that indignity. The fact is that, while I would liken the experience of first two films to slicing my ball skin with a heavy-duty paper-cutter, I do appreciate that they have themselves something of a faithful fan base. Besides, I’ll never knock the endeavor of any aspiring artist who puts their blood, sweat and tears into realizing their vision, no matter how skewed said vision might be.

Alas, if Nguyen suspects that he’s getting off the hook that easy then he’s even more deluded than I thought, as while I applaud what he has achieved on a microscopic budget, he stills owes me for three hours of my life that I’ll never get back. I can forgive bad acting, shoddy audio, cack-handed camerawork, lamentable script and visual effects that appear to have been created via PowerPoint. But being bored beyond tears not once but twice (my own stupid fault admittedly) is inexcusable in my book and even my charitable nature has its limits.

So here’s the thing. I’ve found the perfect compromise for anyone still not deterred from donating their hard-fought time to the Birdemic cause. You see, I happened across a YouTube video posted by the good folk over at Cinema Sins and it proposes to snatch but twenty minutes of your time as opposed to the obligatory 93 and throw in some deadpan voice-over just to up the entertainment ante even further. In my opinion, this is the best way to enjoy Nguyen’s film and I highly recommend clicking play on the link provided below as it will answer any burning Birdemic questions in one fell swoop. You see what I did there? I was going to close with ca-caw, but with two Birdemics down, I’m still learning the lingo. That’s easier said than done when you’re relinquishing brain cells at an alarming rate. Just watch the video will you. I’m fast running out of bird seed here.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 2/10

Grue Factor: 1/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: To give the birds their dues, they rack up quite the body count and you have no idea how hard it is to write that sentence without bursting a bollock laughing. They may only be aware of their hover threateningly setting, but they take absolutely no prisoners and I’m still on the verge of a giggle fit here. What do you want me to say that two screenshots can’t explain more eloquently? 

Read Troll 2 Appraisal
Read Howling II Appraisal
Read Squirm Appraisal
Read Big Ass Spider! Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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