Set in Half Moon Bay, just outside San Francisco, Birdemic: Shock and Terror is about a man named Rod, portrayed by Alan Bagh with all of the nuance and skill of cardboard cutout. Honestly, the movie would probably be better if Rod was played by an actual cardboard cutout and tape recorder instead of a guy doing his best cardboard cutout impression. The movie starts off with Rod asking out Nathalie, a girl he knew from high school. Why there’s an ‘h’ in her name is beyond me; it’s pronounced like “Natalie.” Then again, this is probably the smallest thing wrong with the movie.
Introducing the main love interest is a totally logical way to start a movie. But beyond that, the first half of the movie is random, mind-numbing shit. He goes to work, goes on a date, and watches the news to learn about important things, such as seals. We basically follow Rod as he goes about his daily life. Not in the way that French New Wave films do, which can make having a normal day thrilling and compelling, but in a way that reminds you how painfully boring life can be. And not in an artistic, thoughtful way. There’s also a strange fascination with the environment in Birdemic. Rod and Nathalie go on a date to see An Inconvenient Truth, Rod’s car gets 100 miles per gallon, and Rod starts a solar panel company. Nguyen wants to make sure you don’t forget that the environment is going down the tubes. It comes back in a big way later.
Now, let’s reflect back on the title and the words that James Nguyen chose to describe his film. “Birdemic?” There haven’t been any birds or pandemics so far. “Shock?” Not in the way he intended. “Terror?” None. We’re halfway through the movie and we have no idea what birds have anything to do with a romance. Maybe it’s some kind of strange surreal title? Shock and Terror about the environment? Come on, Nguyen. Don’t make us think this hard about a movie this bad. You better do a 180 as fast as you can.
And boy, does he ever. One morning, Rod and Nathalie wake up to find that hundreds of birds have begun attacking people. And when I say attacking people, I mean hovering in front of people, but in the most totally menacing way possible. Also, in a stunning feat of evolution, the birds of Half Moon Bay have gained the ability to hover effortlessly, explode into a ball of flames like a kamikaze pilot, and excrete a strange yellow slime-acid. Also, they’re all GIFs.
Steve Wilhite, the creator of the GIF format, could not be reached for comment, but I can only imagine that he’d be more offended by their use in the film than their pronunciation. Nguyen, on the other hand, doesn’t care if it’s pronounced “GIF” or “JIF,” but they all must die.
Rod and Nathalie head a ragtag team of coat-hanger wielding heroes on an adventure trying to survive the GIFdemic. Somehow, this second half of the movie still manages to be just as boring and flat as the first half despite constant bird attacks. They eventually meet environmentalists (how convenient!) who explain that the berserk birds are a result of the environment! Now it all makes sense! That’s the reason for all of the focus on environmental issues and green tech in the first half of the movie! It all comes full circle!
Except it doesn’t. Hell, Rod doesn’t react at all when the environmental causes are revealed, not even as much as an “I told you so!” At the end of the day, when all of the birds randomly stop attacking and fly away, we’re reminded of what makes this movie so much fun to watch: how completely random everything is. The characters act and react seemingly without any motivation or purpose, randomly-changing camera angles make scenes incoherent, and of course, it becomes an entirely different goddamn movie halfway through. If the best movies are more than the sum of their parts, then the sum of Birdemic’s parts is less than nothing. When a movie is as poorly made as Birdemic, it becomes our job as the audience to make the film into something else; a comedy where James Nguyen’s complete directorial incompetence is the star.
This article is part of NUFEC's Bad Movies series. Find Birdemic: Shock and Terror on Amazon here.