Film: Birdemic – Shock and Terror

Today, I experienced something beautiful. Sonora, Paul and I went and saw Birdemic – Shock and Terror, the epic “romantic thriller” by genre master, James Nguyen. Now, don’t get me wrong, Birdemic is an unrelentingly terrible film, awful by every possible standard, however it is also a beautiful thing to watch.

The narrative follows two main characters, the alarmingly slow moving Rod and his love interest, Nathalie (Victoria’s Secret model in the making.) They apparently went to high school together, where he sat two seats behind her in English (and collected her fallen hairs) and get accidentally reunited outside a diner in California. They go on a series of painfully boring dates, while Ron does very well at work. He’s a software salesperson, and has “silicon valley dreams”. What’s even better is that as all this incredibly mundane business is being inflicted upon the oft hysterical audience the film pushes a far-less-than-subtle message regarding polar bears dying and the other effects of global warming.

The plot really picks up when after a night of passionate laying next to each other, Rod and Nathalie awaken to find their sweet, Californian town has been ravaged by killer eagles and vultures. Eagles and vultures with ear-splitting shrieks, rendered in the most spectacular gif animation I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing. They proceed to join up with another couple, and find themselves in a mini-van (read: Epic death trap). From here they spend the rest of this rolicking, joy-ride of a film doing incredibly foolish things, getting in and out of the vehicle for no apparent reason, leaving valuables behind (jerry can of gas, gun, etc.) and gathering dead weights (children). All the while they are regularly attacked by these maniacal bloody birds, and occasionally encounter sage-like individuals who proceed to unleash needlessly long diatribes about the negative affects of pollution, vehicle emissions, and global warming in general. By the time you’ve seen 20 minutes of this it becomes painfully obvious that the filmmakers are seriously trying to attempt to convey a cautionary message regarding the environment. Sometimes it feels as if Birdemic is the spotty, unwanted love-child of An Inconvenient Truth and Avatar.

I won’t go on and ruin the delicate nuances of the narrative, however, what is more remarkable about this innovative piece of film is the perceptive and effective use of the pan shot, sound editing and special effects. Never have I seen frightening, predatory birds rendered quite so poetically as Nguyen’s clunky, super-imposed creatures. Nor have I seen such epic, magical use of the pan-shot. Pans up and down, left and right, two, three, four, five, six in a row – revolutionary to say the very least. Finally, the sound editing is something to truly marvel at, the deeply moving effect of having key lines of “meaningful” dialogue being washed out by appalling soundtrack or on set background noise. Never have I felt so effectively sutured into intricacies of a film.

What is interesting about films such as Birdemic is that the people who produce them truly do deserve respect. While their films may appear to be travesties to the conditioned eye of the Hollywood film viewer, they are, actually, the products of considerable work, devotion, love and effort. I deeply respect the work of these independent filmmakers. In part because I know how proud I would be of making my own feature film, and also because it allows the average film-viewer to appreciate the detail and tremendous care that goes into the making of a major film. What is generally lacking in these sorts of films is attention to the myriad of small details, very few of these details are overlooked in the making of a major picture. It really makes me respect all the editors, effects specialists, gaffers, sound technicians, etc all the more.

We saw Birdemic at E St. Cinema in Washington D.C. It was a nearly sold-out show, and much of the audience were midnight movie regulars, and “Roomies” (people who attend cult screenings of Tommy Wisseau’s remarkable disaster, The Room). These sorts of film audiences are full on participants, funny and excited. Watching a movie with them creates a great sense of community and comradeship.

I would strongly recommend Birdemic – Shock and Terror as well as any of the film experiences in E St. Cinema’s midnight madness film screenings.