Birdemic: Shock and Terror

Pic fails to deliver the terror, but more than compensates with shock.


“Birdemic: Shock and Terror” fails to deliver the terror, but more than compensates with shock — i.e., the sounds of jaws falling to the floor in stunned disbelief, likely to be heard during pic’s frequent acoustical dropouts. Howlingly bad films are a dime a dozen, but the evident Ed Wood-like sincerity with which writer-director James Nguyen lovingly crafted this compendium of cinematic don’ts gives it a goofy, almost surrealist charm. Attracting major media attention nationwide, delighting auds who clap along with the canned music and gasp aloud at the stunningly awful f/x, “Birdemic” has carved out a place in the pantheon of midnight movies.

Nguyen’s professed fascination with Hitchcock films yields a plot that might be described as “The Birds” with all ambiguities and psychological crosscurrents summarily removed and replaced with pronouncements about the evils of global warming — responsible for everything from viral birds to starving polar bears.

The film’s first 40 minutes are strictly reserved for Romance and Normalcy. Rod, an ecologically minded software salesman (Alan Bagh, in a perf of truly awesome ineptitude) meets cheery, unassuming model Nathalie (Whitney Moore — game, but no match for her cliche-riddled part). Their relationship quickly pays off, as Rod improbably closes a million-dollar deal from his dinky office cubicle while Nathalie, barely able to strike a pose, lands a gig as cover model for Victoria’s Secret.

When the birds finally attack, amid much avian shrieking, leaving slashed or toxic-turd-covered corpses in their wake, our intrepid, environment-loving protagonists fight them off with bursts of rifle fire.

“Birdemic” displays all the revered hallmarks of hilariously bad filmmaking: inane dialogue (compounded by Vietnamese-born Nguyen’s imperfect grasp of the language), miscued music, godawful sound (alternating between lines barely heard above the ambient noise and total silence), and special effects that simply must be seen to be believed: birds dive-bombing and exploding in red-and-yellow poofs of smoke, and clip-art eagles, crudely pasted on the screen, with only their wing tips mechanically flapping.

But beyond these expected cheesy drolleries, Nguyen’s odd, often ambitious directorial choices constantly surprise. The emphases of this self-trademarked “Master of the Romantic Thriller” often defy narrative logic; he spends inordinate minutes on shots of Rod driving around town, to and from work, and in and out of driveways. Instead of one or two establishing shots of the town, Nguyen opts for 12. Given his dissociative editing style, sometimes so disjointed as to appear hallucinatory, a simple trajectory might be covered from five different, disconcertingly mismatched angles, each with wildly disparate lighting, expression and attitude.

Birdemic: Shock and Terror

  • Production: A Severin Films release of a Moviehead Pictures production. Produced, directed, written by James Nguyen.
  • Crew: Camera (color, DV), Daniel Mai; editor, Kim Chow; music, Andrew Seger; sound, Erick Jolley; sound designer, John Cregan; visual effects, Yeung Chan; casting, Ted Maier. Reviewed at IFC Center, New York, March 27, 2010. Running time: 93 MIN.
  • With: With: Alan Bagh, Whitney Moore, Adam Sessa, Janae Caster, Colton Osborne, Danny Webber, Mona Lisa Moon, Catherine Batcha.