Birdemic: Shock and Terror is a a romantic thriller, according to writer, producer and director James Nguyen. Calling this an amateur film is a pretty big understatement. Just take a look at the movie poster. That really says it all. And this is not Sharknado-level of bad, which is a cinematic masterpiece, along with the rest from Asylum films, compared to this one. Because going into this movie without knowing anything about the circumstances around it, one could quickly get the assumption that this is made by some young amateurs for shits n’ giggles with a budget of a monthly salary from Walmart. Instead, we get to watch the result from a full-grown, batshit crazy dude in his mid-forties, which in all seriousness believes he’s made “pure cinema” with “a Hollywood-style to it”. I’m not kidding, this is his own quotes from his own mouth. So, colleagues such as Tommy Wiseau, Neil Breen and Lewis Schoenbrun should just sit down, take some notes and learn from the great master himself.
In Birdemic: Shock and Terror we get the pleasure to meet Rod (Alan Bagh), which is a young, successful software salesman from Silicon Valley. He randomly meets his old classmate Nathalie (Whitney Moore) in a restaurant, and they start to date. And suddenly, out of nowhere, eagles and vultures start to attack and kill people. And how and why, you may ask? Because of global warming. And people needs to be punished and taught a lesson to live more climate-friendly. And as the tagline says: Who will survive?
James Nguyen is really careful to use precisely the first half of the movie to give Rod and Nathalie some solid character development before all hell breaks loose. We get a series of date scenes that really should convince us that these two are in love with each other, with a chemistry that is as electric as a public fart in an elevator. The level of cringe and awkwardness is quite astonishing, where the dialogues could as well have been written by an alien who just assumes how earthlings talk and interact. The acting skills by Alan Bagh is especially worth mentioning – which is so stiff (as a Rod), totally emotionless and so robotic that he comes more across as a classic psychopathic serial killer in sheep’s clothing, just graduated from the University of Ted Bundy. I digress. Whether he is a bad actor, or acts bad on purpose, as if he was fully aware of the kind of film he has messed himself into, is not easy to say. The only one here who barely manages to behave like a normal, functioning human being is Withney Moore, although there are several scenes where she seems to really struggle not to laugh. I can’t really blame her for that. I can’t really blame no one for their bad acting, or for acting badly on purpose for that matter, in a film like this. I would do it myself, if I got the chance, really.
But the most important aspect of Birdemic: Shock and Terror is of course the deep and important message behind it. Huh? Birdemic has a message? Here’s a drinking game: take a shot for every time James Nguyen says “global warning” in the DVD’s commentary track, and you’ll be dead by alcohol poisoning way before the end credits. There’s a scene with a hippie climate activist with some really crazy eyes, who gives a preach and shows our protagonists how climate-friendly he lives by building a small treehouse, which some ten-year-olds could have done better. And to emphasize that he has lived in the wild nature for many years, he has a ridiculous wig with a ponytail that doesn’t look fake at all. The conversation ends abruptly when he says “I hear a mountain lion! I gotta get back to my house and you better get to your car!” Okay, whatever. There’s also a scene that, according to Mr. Nguyen, pays a tribute to John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Bed-Ins for Peace”, just to squeeze in a quick anti-war statement. And the scene is, as the rest of the movie, horribly shot with murky image quality, making it look more like something straight out of a home-made amateur porn.
Criticizing the technical aspects is as meaningless as judging something that could have been shown on America’s Funniest Home Videos in the 90s. There’s really no point, it’s just that bad. But, ok: The CGI effects look like some unused layers from a discarded Nintendo 64 game, and I guess it all was filmed on a cheap camcorder, edited in Windows Movie Maker, and audio mixed with a hair dryer. Since there is a lot of driving in Birdemic, I would assume that the entire budget on 10.000 dollars went to gasoline, and the rest to God knows what. Most of the film was shot without permit (guerrilla-style) in crowded areas, and Mr. Nguyen actually had the nerves to yell at some joggers during a scene to not get into the frame. He and the crew also ended up getting kicked out of some areas. Well, making “pure cinema” with a “Hollywood-style to it” isn’t easy, it seems.
Anyway, one thing I would give Mr. Nguyen credit for, is the way he promoted the film after getting rejected by Sundance. In haste and desperation he got the brilliant idea of driving around in a van, decorated by stuffed birds, fake blood, the sounds of screeching birds out of the speakers, and with a paper sign that read “BIDEMIC.COM”. Yes, in pure James Nguyen fashion he spelled his own movie title wrong. However, this excellent pr-stunt got people to notice it to such a degree that it blew up everywhere, even in the mainstream news globally. Vice also made a mini documenatry that covered some of the circus and insanity that followed. Mr. Nguyen spent two years touring the film around the states where the people couldn’t get enough of Birdemic: Shock and Terror, and it became a real cult hit. But what James Nguyen was not aware of at all, and probably never will be, is that probably 99 percent of the people who flocked to the theatres were from the same audience that laughed themselves to tears by The Room. A prime example of being celebrated on all of the wrong reasons. So the last laugh is on James Nguyen, even though it seemed the guy really had the time of his life and enjoyed the party as long it lasted.
A sequel came two years later, called Birdemic 2: Resurrection, which is more or less the first film all over again where several of the same actors amazingly repeated their roles. The film received a worse reception than the first, maybe because people expected something different than a remake that only refers to itself from the first film. A far clearer and polished image quality didn’t help much either, as it came and went. A third film was planned with the title Birdemic 3: Sea Eagle to end this as a trilogy, and in 2016 he started an indiegogo campaign in the hope of raising half a million dollars. No more than 596 came stumbling in before the campaign ended. Oof. Both Birdemic: Shock and Terror and Birdemic 2: The Ressurection are available on amazon.com, and it’s still a fun experience to watch back-to-back, with the right mind-set… and some booze.
Director: James Nguyen
Country & year: USA, 2010
Actors: Alan Bagh, Whitney Moore, Tippi Hedren, Janae Caster, Colton Osborne, Adam Sessa, Catherine Batcha, Patsy van Ettinger, Damien Carter, Rick Camp, Stephen Gustavson, Danny Webber, Mona Lisa Moon, Joe Teixeira, John Grant