TSR Blog – The Worst Movie I Have Ever Seen, ‘Birdemic: Shock and Terror’

One day, I am going to channel my inner Dante Alighieri, and like any good hack, copy his nine rings of hell from his “Inferno” to create my own categorization, “The Nine Circles of Movie Hell.” With this list, I will rightfully place all of the “Bad” Movies in the spot in which they are truly deserving of, with no sarcastic exaggeration utilized. Even something as disagreeably idiotic as Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen would only be placed in the first or second ring, next to box-office bombs like From Justin To Kelly, etc. Further down the list, you might see something by Rob Schneider in the fifth or sixth tier. The 7th ring would probably contain Cam’Ron’s crapsterpiece Killa Season. With no doubt, the 8th ring of Movie Hell would be occupied by championed crap-movies like Troll 2, and the Gandalf of trash, Manos: The Hands of Fate.

However, in the 9th circle of Hell, occupying the most important circle in the entire list (it is Dante’s most memorable), will be one sole film. That movie, which I can only call a “movie” for the sole reason that it has a running time of 90 minutes, is titled … BIRDEMIC: SHOCK AND TERROR. Throughout the history of thousands of filmmakers picking up cameras and trying to capture their God-given imagination, there has never been a movie like this. And there never will be anything like Birdemic after this. Forever and ever, Amen.

A romantic-thriller inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, the film has two villains – global warming, and a swarm of sometimes-explosive eagles and vultures. Whenever global warming is mentioned in long diatribes, which are always uttered by a character with only one scene, it is condemning evidence for bad writing (using the “w” word is a compliment). But there is no more immediate indicator of this movie’s quality than the birds themselves. Hovering above the actors (which sometimes attack them with coat hooks and an unlimited amount of bullets), the demonic flying creatures caw-caw the same sound effect menacingly as they are brought to life by … photoshop. Or, it could be MS Paint. Or perhaps iMovie? Regardless, credibility is nowhere to be seen with either application. But this isn’t just a low budget dooming a movie with effects that the audience can’t believe in. This is a film condemning itself to instant God-Like Craptitude with effects that the film thinks will provide Shock and Terror. These are effects that one would be embarrassed to have in a Microsoft Powerpoint presentation. Those who thought that Hitchcock’s The Birds was unintentionally funny in certain aspects have 0% clue of how laughable avian effects can really be. (Oh, and those people suck.)

The plot. In the sunny land of Half Moon Bay, California, a locale similar looking to The Birds’ Bodega Bay, lives an ambitious salesman named Rod (Alan Bagh). Rod is on the cusp of a big one million dollar deal that is also bound to help his company and his career. In a diner one day, he notices an old classmate named Nathalie (Whitney Moore). Nathalie is an up-and-coming model who does her photoshoots at 1-Hour Photo stores in strip malls. The two become quick re-acquaintances, and soon start a relationship. They go to a Vietnamese restaurant, he meets her mom, they see An Inconvenient Truth, they go to a pumpkin festival, and eventually they go to a motel to have sex.

The next morning, birds attack. With some of these stationary brown flapping organisms spontaneously combusting in mid-air, the shocking/terrifying creatures attack the town, including a gas station (which happens in The Birds). Alan and Nathalie run to a room next to theirs and meet up with an ex-Marine (who was “tired of all the f**king killing in Iraq”) and his female significant other. The two begin a journey to safety that includes shock, terror, and a lot of monologues about global warming. Something that is apparently the cause behind the Birdemic that writer/director James Nguyen has unleashed upon our world.

For starters, any form of number or measuring system cannot accurately record the distance of which Nguyen misses the mark of “honoring” Hitchcock’s ideas. As a writer/director he has completely misunderstood the concept of cinematic tension. With Birdemic, he feels that long shots (of Alan driving, pumping gas, and driving some more) will drag up some tension, but it’s the type of mise en scene that could only work in the most pretentious of pretentious art films. Armed with only a repetitive score and an inane title, perhaps he feels that his audience will be at the edge of their seat considering the mystery of whatever is to come next. Unfortunately, what comes next is usually a scene of Rod driving well-under the speed limit, while Nguyen’s camera fails to smoothly keep up with Bagh’s hybrid Mustang as he cruises down the road.

This might explain the film’s editing, which would give Sergei Eisenstein a brain aneurysm if he ever saw it. Editing is meant to be an invisible art. It is meant to compliment storytelling and condense certain scenes to be poignant. Birdemic does the exact opposite. Certain shots, most of them either completely useless or they are just being utilized in a scene that is entirely useless to the story, drag on for a concerning exaggerated time. I am not talking about a sloppy extra second or two, I’m talking about five, possibly ten seconds. Audiences watching it will scream “CUT IT!” at the screen, (something that actually happened when Michelangelo Antonioni screened L’Avventura at Cannes many years ago. Coincidence?) But even more so, it generates explosive, inescapable laughter from a regular movie-going crowd that likely rarely thinks about editing when watching a film. This could explain why there is no editor is credited for this movie. But someone had to make those few dissolve cuts, right?

Going hand-in-hand with the editing is the film’s cinematography, which only deserves that title because “Camera Filming” doesn’t work as well. Before the photo-shopped birds make their appearance halfway through the movie, the overwhelming whiff of what lay ahead with Birdemic can be witnessed in the opening credits. Laying awkwardly sideways on a dashboard, somewhere between the way a camera should properly be placed and a dutch angle, but more in the realm of Absolute Hilarity, is the film’s camera. The car driving as slow as a Power Wheels truck on a major road, the credits slowly appear on screen, begging us to care about the “stars” in the production. This shot continues for minutes, while the score plays the same eight bars over and over and over again. The only editing experienced during this “Tilt-And-Drive” moment is an awkward cut that just presents the same shot but a little farther up the road. All of this also introduces the earnest intentions of this movie. Even the best comedian would never be able to figure out that something like this is so instantly funny to all audience members, however knowledgeable of the world of movies a particular person may be.

The tension that does not exist from this opening credit sequence is also not achieved with the tripod camera work. Michael Bay has the same problem that director James Nguyen does when it comes to shooting certain scenes. They both like to run their cameras on tracks, with the focus meant to be on a specific character. It is meant to give the illusion of importance or magnitude. Nguyen fails at this, and his rushing camera, which never has a smooth moment in the entirety of Birdemic, always creates the idea that it’s either trying to catch-up with its mobile characters, or run away from them. Imagine a camera awkwardly trying to keep its subject in frame, who is already moving slower than usual. Add the aforementioned editing follies, and you have an idea of the brilliance behind Birdemic’s aesthetics.

Audibly, Birdemic is truly a nightmare. Of course the movie has legendarily bad dialogue recording (this is an area that if failed can sentence a movie to the Bad-lands almost immediately). Conversations waver between two drastic volumes, and often appear to have been recorded in different settings. When Alan and Nathalie get near crashing California waves, their dialogue is essentially indistinguishable.

Then, of course, the birds show up.

Screeching demonic squeals that are meant to terrify its audience, but instead induce headaches onto the masses, the eagles and vultures are brought to life by sound design with only three different effects, the third one not revealed until towards the end of the movie. As they hover above their “victims,” sometimes in groups, the audience has their eardrums shattered as more birds and more clone-sounds are toppled on top of one another.

Of course, just as Hitchcock probably wished for his own movie, there has to be a violent response from the characters. In Birdemic, human beings fight back with toy guns with an unlimited supply of ammo, and all with the same sound. While I have never been around an M16 machine gun, I can imagine from watching a few movies that they are pretty loud. The volume of which the guns are fired in Birdemic is basically careless, and almost inconsiderate to volume ranges that human beings are meant to endure (without it being torture). I suppose that might be how loud guns are when you stand right next the barrel before they’re fired. Perhaps in this one instance, Nguyen has nailed realism.

Birdemic: Shock and Terror is meant to be a Hollywood production (but the sequel will be … more on that later) that doesn’t create anything new for the romantic-thriller genre, but still makes use of the simple archetypes – all-American underdog, all-American homely blonde-next-door. These clichés, and others, are used to a point in Birdemic where they lose their brainless function and become completely useless. Nguyen shows that he can’t even cheat off a playbook laying right in front of him correctly. The two leads constantly make the ill-fated decision to stop on the side of the road to offer assistance, and their relationship is brought to fruition by lines that would be laughed at were they ever said on an actual date. It should only make sense, however, from such a movie as Birdemic, that these would be the dumbest characters one could ever come across. (As for the acting: Bagh speaks like he’s constantly trying to remember his line, and Moore’s performance indicates that she probably learned acting by watching porn.)

Every bad movies has its lulls of dullness, where nothing happens. The movies may still be wholly awful, but there is sometimes no specific or special example to be seen as to why (this happens with The Room). Birdemic does not suffer from this. Every scene is another step away from the realm of movie quality, a move that laugh gases its audience. But with the acting, the cinematography, the direction, the editing, the lighting, the sounds design, the writing, and anything else, a viewer must realize that any regular human being can’t just create this stuff. But that is the hilarious genius behind Birdemic: Shock and Terror – because someone did.

Extremely simply put, everything, and I mean, everything, about Birdemic is bad. A soggy movie critic who is stuck in his/her ways of looking at a movie based on its aesthetic or contextual merit would never make it through this film without setting themselves on fire. But with all of this darkness of quality that this movie unleashes onto the world, there is a lot of non-ironic positiveness thought to be taken from this entire movie’s existence. (It also makes for one a legendarily funny night at the movies!)

For one, Nguyen wins. Paramount, the studio that brought you Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is working on a deal with the writer/director to resume those chairs and make Birdemic: The Resurrection. Nguyen has reported that the budget would be twenty million dollars, and that it will shock and terrify its audience in 3-D. Also, with this movie, a passionate filmmaker has got an audience, and he is getting attention. As this movie travels to lucky movie locales throughout the country, he is creating a name for himself, one that if he has the power, can be turned into something positive (“King of the World” James Cameron made Pirahna Part Two: The Spawning, after all). And with all of this being said, it’s possible that the “negative” energy glowing from a movie like Birdemic will teach him a lesson or two … hundred about what simply works with filmmaking and what does not. At the very least, perhaps he’ll hire an editor for the movies he is bound to make in the future. (For the record, he has made two films previously.)

Second, we win. Our “bad movie obsession,” as Chicago’s NewCity magazine calls it, is further being inflated, with the hot-air being blown in originally by movies like Troll 2 and The Room. Hopefully the attention and excitement that massive audiences gear towards entirely special movies like Birdemic will lead towards the exploration of more dusty gems and raw nuggets that occupy our obscure-DVD store shelves, or are even waiting in a line from studios to be released. At the very least, perhaps more attention will be brought to bad movies, which one could argue teach us equally, if not more than “the good movies” about the art of filmmaking. It is fair to say somewhat that you learn more about the quintessential technique of editing from Birdemic: Shock and Terror than you do Michael Curtiz’ Casablanca.

Third, and most important of all: Throughout the world, and the whole history of this planet, whenever people say “that was the worst movie ever made,” or any combination or variation of those words, they will be wrong. No one will ever be able to fully justify the usage of that phrase (which should be patented by James Nguyen) unless they are talking about his masterpiece, Birdemic: Shock and Terror.

Upcoming Screenings (Information from Birdemic.com)

June 25th & 26th — SEATTLE, WA — The Egyptian Theater (Landmark Midnight screenings!)
June 26th — TORONTO, ON — The Bloor Cinema
June 26th — LONDON, ON — Rainbow Cinemas (That’s London, Ontario, Canada!)
July 7th — AUSTIN, TX — Alamo Drafthouse Ritz (4th encore show!!)
July 9th & 10th — OMAHA, NE — The Dundee Theatre
July 9th & 10th — CALGARY, AB — The Uptown Stage and Screen
July 16th & 17th — WASHINGTON DC — E Street Cinema (DC encore shows!)
July 16th & 17th — TUCSON, AZ — The Loft Cinema (Birdemic returns to AZ for late night shows & midnights!)
July 23rd-25th — PITTSBURGH, PA — Melwood Screening Room
July 24th — SAN DIEGO, CA — The Ken Cinema (Special Landmark Midnight screening during Comic Con!)
July 30th-31st — NEW YORK CITY, NY
August 6th & 7th — ST. LOUIS, MO — Tivoli Theater (Landmark midnight screenings!)
August 6th & 7th — NEW ORLEANS, LA — Prytania Theatre (Midnight showings!)
August 11th — AUSTIN, TX — Alamo Drafthouse Ritz (5th encore show!!)

4 Comments

  1. Scott says:

    Watch Carl J. Sukenick’s _Alien Beasts_ (1991).

  2. Nick Allen says:

    I’ll look for it!

  3. Will Short says:

    The columnist stated his case early on. But why ramble on ad nauseum? He may waste his time writing, but he should have some pity on those who have to read it.

  4. Nick Allen says:

    I almost spilled Code Red on my Pulitzer Prize in outrage after reading this comment. You “had to read it” ? Is NYU teaching yet another class about my writing ?!

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