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Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010)
11th Jun 10
Something your 12 year old self could have come up with in five minutes on a hi-tech 1993 computer attacks a community of people who speak like no humans you have ever met. Welcome to the world of Birdemic
The full title is Birdemic Shock And Terror, as opposed to the more accurate Birdemic: What the fuck was that? or Birdemic There Isn’t Quite Enough Coke In The World To Get Through This More Than Once. In an era where Troll 2 has a documentary feature devoted to its inception and popularity, Vietnamese refugee James Nguyen’s self-described “romantic thriller” is amassing a significant cult following by virtue of its sheer loveable uselessness. Is it as much fun as Troll 2, the most quotable horror flick of the 80’s (“You cant piss on hospitality!”)? No, probably not. Is it more fun than current gazillion-dollar blockbusters like Clash of the Titans or Sex And The City 2? Most definitely, but then, in fairness, so is being raped by Piers Morgan on a wet Wednesday in Southend-on-Sea.
Writer / director Nguyen spent four years making the movie around his day job as a software salesman, which gives us all comfort on those many occasions when we look at our own lives and add up just how much time we’ve wasted watching teenage lesbian porn or moaning about call centres. He shot it in a California locale in tribute to The Birds, and even gives poor old Tippi Hedren third billing in the end credits thanks to an appearance in archive footage. The movie and its maker are absolutely sincere in their intent to make a (cough) romantic thriller with a Serious Message about The Environment. Troll 2 taught us we can’t piss on such sincerity, but Nguyen’s hilarious inability to pull off the most rudimentary aspects of filmmaking make it tough to not be tempted to at least do one of those impossibly tiny turds your girlfriend does on the original negative.
Nothing of significance or relevance happens for around 50 minutes in Birdemic. The same could be said of The Birds, which also spends about that much time depicting the flirtations between the two protagonists before the major bird onslaught begins. You could argue that there’s nothing that exciting about watching frosty clothes horse Hedren and leading man Rod Taylor exchange gifts and suggestive banter in the build-up to the moment where a seagull messes up the former’s perfect 60’s hair. Hitchcock got away with that stuff; jeez, he even got away with that embarrassing Schizophrenia and Transvestism For Dummies speech at the end of the otherwise flawless Psycho . Nguyen gives us nearly an hour of skin-crawlingly forced dinner table conversation and attempts at depicting genuine social interaction before eventually bringing on the aggressive eagles.
It’s arguably the most heavy handed entry yet in the eco-horror sub-genre, a cycle not known for its subtlety in putting across its recurring theme that ALL HUMANITY IS SHIT AND RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DESTRUCTION OF BEAUTIFUL MOTHER NATURE SO WHY DON’T YOU JUST ALL KILL YOURSELF AFTER THE CREDITS HAVE ROLLED. Here, amidst bizarre extended s-l-o-w scenes of people driving and cue-card line delivery, we get hints early on of where Nguyen is going with this via recurring TV reports of melting sea ice in the Arctic, unexplained bird deaths and miscellaneous environmental disasters. In case we don’t grasp the significance of much of this, the news lady spells it out for us : polar bears are dying, it seems, due to the “difficulty of finding food - such as seals”. As opposed to the nearest Arctic outlet of KFC.
The stiffest of the “actors” turns out to be the leading man, Alan Bagh, a charisma-free zone and a thespian who even makes walking down a street a peculiarly self conscious and awkward spectacle to watch on screen. You feel sorry for him while also having the faintly unreasonable urge to throw knives and vomit at the screen whenever he is on it. Bagh is a software salesman - sales suits his personality, he explains, despite the lack of evidence to show any semblance of personality at all - whose growing company is at the forefront of solar technology, not that you’d guess that from appearances.
Bagh enjoys some guy talk - about Mustangs and girls, of course - with his guy pal (“A day without sex is a day wasted”) and develops a blossoming romance with the improbably beautiful Whitney Moore, a fashion model for Victoria’s Secret and prominent cat lover (she would have ten if she could afford it). She doesn’t, however, give anything up on the first date and, even when Nguyen gets Moore in her undies for an unenthusiastic love scene, the sequence climaxes with….a lingering close up of their feet. That‘s what the horror audience wants : foot nudity and conversations about cats. (Incidentally, Moore radiates appeal and appears to be mildly competent as an actress, so might be the most embarrassed party in this whole shebang).
Eventually, a randomly appearing bunch of eagles and vultures begin attacking the town, choosing cars and petrol stations as their main targets in retaliation for the aforementioned DESTRUCTION OF BEAUTIFUL MOTHER NATURE BY US SHITTY HUMANS. You will be on their side.
Set to a godawful music score, with astonishingly bad editing and terrible audio, this is the movie to beat when it comes to consistent hilarity and befuddling randomness. Sometimes you feel like you’re trapped in an insane asylum where one of the inmates is showing you some of his movie handiwork before removing your eyeballs with toothpicks: witness the crazy, extended clapping scene when the software firm announces great success. At other times, it’s like your 6 year old cousin got his horror script green lit: witness clunking dire-logue between best buddies like “By the way, I know your girlfriend Natalie, she’s my girlfriend’s best friend!”.
Subtlety doesn’t just take the early bus home in Birdemic, it beats an old lady to death for some change and then presses a rocket launcher against the bus driver’s temples just to make sure. Just in case we weren’t picking up on the environmental message running through this film like a low-speed but over-sized bright pink train, Nguyen has his characters going to see a certain Al Gore-fronted eco-documentary and then comment “Man, that was a good movie - An Inconvenient Truth!” And may take sadistic pleasure in the bizarre, tortuously protracted bar sequence that affords many close-ups of a black singer dude performing to an audience of…two.
When the birds finally strike, the insanity only deepens, as home-made computer effects representing the avian attackers make you want to immediately re-evaluate the FX seen in Bert I Gordon’s oeuvre. These goofy superimposed fake-creatures display magical powers (one slashes someone’s throat from ear to ear in a single swoop) and are actually less effective than if Nguyen had used a visible hand holding up a picture of a bird above the characters’ heads. The biggest laugh of the movie might not be the moment in which the protagonists arm themselves with coat hangers to fend off the (barely - moving) mass…but it’s in the top ten.
In the second half, Nguyen literally stops the movie so that randomly positioned, previously unseen characters can deliver insulting speeches hammering home the story’s “message”. Our heroes stumble across a scientist who bemoans the fact that the human species are responsible for the modern world’s bird flu / global warming / ineptly animated eagle problems (“You sure know a lot about birds”, notes our impressed heroine). Later a self-described tree-hugger lurking in the forest provides more doom-laden lecturing: “Damn global warming” he curses, before lamenting “It’s not the eagles I worry about, it’s the dry drought weather” (is there such a thing as a wet drought?!) and sadly noting “Appreciate these trees while they’re here - in a few years they’ll be gone”.
Quite simply, Birdemic is surrealistically bad on every level, from its gob-smacking attack scenes (love the assault on a besieged bus) to the sentimentality of its 'Save The Planet' message. It is destined for infamy and cult fandom, and it has somebody delivering the line “Why cant we give peace a chance” with a straight face. Watching it pissed is absolutely essential since, if you’re sober, it will drive you to drink faster than finding out your better half has a Stereophonics section in her CD rack.
Zomblee's note: Steven West submitted this review with double star rating ("Five out of five, or one out of five - who can tell?!").