I have to admit it was actually a little hard to sit through this glorious display of cinematic tragedy. I mean, there’s plenty to enjoy here, just not in the way it was intended. For starters, the production on this romantic-eco-thriller looks worse than any student project I’ve been involved in, and that’s saying something. Director James Nguyen has outdone himself with Birdemic, assembling a cast and crew beyond compare, and introducing them in plain font over a painfully slow, off-kilter, opening scene. The level of ineptitude on this self-financed project is genuinely charming. Nguyen is clearly a guy who idolises Hitchcock and Al Gore, but just doesn’t know how to go about emulating them, let alone combining them.
With the amount of first timers involved in Birdemic‘s production, I can only guess that Nguyen has roped in some friends to help him out. Perhaps he would have been better off doing it himself. The sound, seemingly exclusively captured with the on-board mic, cuts in and out to try and conceal the hideous background noise. There are three people listed in the sound department, all with actual experience, I just don’t believe that. The rest of the editing is about as good as the sweet, royalty-free soundtrack. Shots often pause for a second or two before a fade kicks in, and the sheer amount of useless footage left in is just fantastic. Unbelievably, this isn’t Kim Choi’s first editing gig, he also worked on Nguyen’s second feature Replica. Yes, the director has two features to his name before this one, please remind me to check them out. I’m being a bit harsh on Choi though, Nguyen’s script should take a lot of the credit. We are treated to numerous long sequences of our totally uninteresting protagonist do everything from stopping for ‘gas’, to walking down the street, and having a riveting consultation with a solar salesman. The camera work, by Daniel Mai, throughout all of this is pretty ace too, featuring plenty of questionable framing, a lack of focus, and jarring readjustments. You really do have to admire his passion for camera movement though. To be fair on all those involved, I wonder how much of this Nguyen actually did himself after the others gave up.
Most of the actors, like the crew, made their unenviable screen debut in this pitiful gem. Alan Bagh, our aforementioned uninteresting protagonist, Rod, looks like he’d be more at home on a shelf at your local DIY store. It’s like he is reading the script for the first time, which is quite possible, but without glasses. Tommy Wiseau eat your heart out. I can’t wait to see him alongside Danny Trejo in Cyborg X. Rounding out the cast are Rod’s overly excitable workmates, seedy friend Rick and his Yoko Ono-loving girlfriend, and a host of other awkward characters. I have to give special mention to the adorable Whitney Moore as Rod’s budding love interest, Nathalie, possibly the loveliest, most enthusiastic actress ever to grace a project of this budget – also one with the dirtiest feet. She and Patsy Van Ettinger, a Nguyen regular playing her Mother, are the only ones that kind of hold down a scene in spite of how rubbish the script is. Apparently the poor girl even stepped in as makeup artist when the others, understandably, quit. Talk about dedication.
Somewhere in the midst of all this banal and meaningless character development, birds go kamikaze on Rod and Nathalie’s romantic seaside holiday destination. This is when the movie really kicks in to gear. Nguyen obviously shelled out big on the visual effects with first timer Yeung Chan. You’ve got to feel sorry for the guy, as with many here, having no credits since – he didn’t even return for the sequel. Nguyen, however, has backed the kid on ABC News, “from a distance I think those eagles and vultures look pretty realistic.” Either way, you can’t deny it is a scream watching poor, novice actors fending off GIF birds with coat hangers. As for the rest of the ham fisted, environmentalist plot, our lovebirds quickly make friends with an ex-Marine, and his girlfriend. They pick up a couple of kids as they travel aimlessly around in a dodgy van – yuppie Rod lost the keys to his ‘plug-in hybrid’ Mustang – searching for supplies and survivors. They meet all manner of colourful folk, including an utterly incomprehensible shop owner, a hermit, and a cowboy who forces them at gunpoint to sell him some gas. When the ending finally comes, you won’t believe it, and not in a good way.
There is so much more I could say about this miracle piece of filmmaking. I mean, it was a miracle it actually got made and distributed. Apparently when denied by Sundance, Nguyen drove around with a loudspeaker in a car covered with fake blood and birds to promote the movie. It’s a good thing he did, because if not, trashy film lovers the world over would be at a great loss. Whichever way you look at it, Nguyen has achieved something pretty special here. It’s rare that a movie manages to be so pitiful and amateur, yet still almost keep you entertained.