Set up and pay off. Set up. Pay off. The opening of most competently made motion pictures sets up plot points that will be called back to later. This is not the case with James Nguyen’s Birdemic. What we have here is two entirely different movies in one awkwardly edited package. Everything established in the first half of the movie is completely absent from the remainder of the film, and is therefore pointless. Imagine if someone were to cut the movie at the half way point and show the two parts to two different people, then put them in a room to discuss what they saw. Neither of the two viewers would be able to comprehend how their half fits with the other. The two parts are self contained enough that they could very well be their own forty-five minute movies, so let’s consider them as such:
Birdemic I – Handsome Rod’s Courtship of Natalie
Who wouldn’t buy his solar panels?
Everyone, meet Rod (Alan Bagh). He drives a mustang, which is a plug-in hybrid. He is a successful salesman for NCT software, with stock options and a cable subscription to the local high school’s news channel. He also drives slower than old people.
I need a better agent.
Now meet Natalie (Whitney Moore), a Victoria’s Secret cover model who has her head shots taken at the local one hour photo. She’s the beautiful girl next door – smart, funny, and down to earth. Both these main characters are a little too cookie-cutter to be considered real people. While Moore’s performance is fairly natural, considering what she had to work with, Bagh’s wooden acting is bland in the most hilarious way. Every line gets the same inflection, as if he’s not sure what he’s saying or why. Or where he even is. But the ‘Worst Performance in Birdemic’ award has to go to Patsy van Ettinger, who plays Natalie’s mom. She’s riveting as she second-guesses her dialogue mid-take, only to try the line again. This happens at least twice and director Nguyen chose to leave it in both times. Maybe repeating her lines was Ettinger’s way of doubling her screentime.
The first half of the film is severely lacking in conflict. Have you ever wanted to watch two people dating in real time? Well, strap in, because this is it. Thrill as Natalie and Rod attend the pumpkin carving festival. Revel in their discussion of An Inconvenient Truth. Clap along while they hang out with their families. Their courtship is a picture-perfect fairy tale; nothing goes wrong for either of them. Natalie lands a Victoria’s secret gig and Rod sells his stock to start his own business, selling cheap solar panels to poor people. There’s no conflict in either of their lives, and there’s no tension between the two of them, so all we are watching is two happy people smiling.
Birdemic I is a romance story, that ends with the perfect couple living happily ever after, having shared a loving embrace. In a rundown motel room.
Birdemic II – Attack of the Killer Gifs
Giant Bird attack? I got this. Coat hangers.
But all is not as it seems. Their lives were perfect, until THEY HAD SEX. Now, Nguyen was clearly intending to tell a cautionary tale about the imminent dangers of global warming. The one thing that does remain constant throughout the film is the ‘save the earth’ message. But based on what happens after Natalie and Rod consummate their relationship, you could argue the bird attack is actually punishment for premarital sex. The entire world is punished for their sins.
The second movie tells the story of a vacationing couple who wake up in their motel room to the shrill sound of chaos. Birds are attacking, and it’s an epidemic. We have a title folks. Movie two is a harrowing tale of survival against pixelated birds that hover near their victims… and just… sort of, flap their wings. Some of these birds dive bomb and explode, while others use their razor sharp claws to slit peoples throats. Rod and Natalie team up with fellow motel guests Ramsey and Becky (Adam Sessa and Catherine Batcha), and manage to escape to Ramsey’s van (which for some reason is equipped with pistols and machine guns and a seemingly bottomless supply of ammo).
They embark on a road trip to somewhere, dodging deadly birds and coming across a cast of quirky characters along the way. They even stop to save two children, hiding out after the death of their parents. Rod, being the caring guy he is, gently coaxes this terrified child out from under a car by waving a revolver in her direction.
Get out or I’ll shoot you.
To stay safe, the group is forced to keep moving and stay in their car… but only sometimes. A picnic in the park is a safe idea. So is a walk through the woods. We learn from a doctor in the park and a tree hugger in the woods that the birds are only attacking cities and gas stations, a sort of retribution for the human race’s negative impact on the planet. It’s people who are the problem, and this is proven with a scene where Natalie and Rob are held up for the gas in the van. A cowboy with an empty tank pulls a gun on them, insisting, ‘You’re gonna sell me some gas, now!’
In the end, it’s all for nothing. The birds just fly away as Natalie and Rod watch. Why are the birds going? Did they somehow eliminate global warming by bombing a few gas stations and vomiting acid on random citizens? As far as I can tell, their attack accomplished nothing. The movie just sort of fizzles out without any closure. What have our two heroes learned from this adventure? What is the audience supposed to take away? I guess we’ll have our answers in Birdemic 2: The Resurrection (yes, this is a real thing).
It’s hard to believe that the filmmakers who attached their names to this project must have sat down at some point, taken a good look at the special effects, the editing, the performances, the music, and the story and thought, ‘Yeah. This looks like a real movie. I want to release this.’ They somehow deluded themselves into thinking an audience would appreciate this, and they weren’t wrong. Birdemic is a perfect film for bad movie lovers because it changes pace halfway through. It’s easy for a bad movie to get boring or repetitive but Birdemic has found a way to stay fresh. Don’t let the title fool you: there’s no shock or terror, but there’s definitely a hell of a lot of laughter.
Now let’s have a round of applause for surviving Birdemic.