Bad movies can be fun. SyFy has built a cottage industry on movies like Mega Python Vs. Gatoroid and Sharktopus, ridiculous, campy films that wind up being a lot of fun to watch. However, bad movies can also just be bad. Such is case with James Nguyen’s 2008 film Birdemic: Shock and Terror, which may actually be the worst movie ever made.
This is not a statement made lightly. In a life primarily spent watching an endless parade of questionable films, I’ve witnessed some true cinematic atrocities. I’ve watched The Room multiple times, I enjoy the Saturday night schlock on SyFy, Troma films were on heavy rotation in my high school and college days, and it took a couple of tries, but I finally made it to the end of Thankskilling, the previous holder of this rusty crown. But somehow, I’ve never enjoyed a movie less than Birdemic, or had a more difficult time getting through a film. That alone should count as a minor achievement.
Since Vietnamese-born director Nguyen began hawking his opus at the Sundance Film Festival a few years ago (he famously drove up and down the street in the van from the movie with the title of the movie misspelled on the side) Birdemic has become the latest cult-movie craze. People crowd into late-night screenings and have raucous Q & A sessions with Nguyen, who has, to his credit, accepted the absurd place his film has in popular culture.
This is a phenomenon that I don’t understand in the slightest. The bonus features on the DVD are packed with footage of standing-room-only showings full of people laughing and carousing and generally having a great time, but the film is so tedious that there is nothing redeemable about it. Birdemic is a bad movie, but not in the so-bad-it’s-good way. It is simply, irrevocably bad. The whole thing looks like it was shot by a high school AV club, and the acting and writing are about on par with that, but again, not in an entertaining way.
Rod (Alan Bagh) is a successful software salesman who is about to make millions from stock options and start his own solar panel side business. He meets and falls in love with Nathalie (Whitney Moore), a fashion model he went to high school with. For the first 47-minutes of the film, nothing of note happens. Out of nowhere, right after Rod and Nathalie get down the first time in a hotel room, eagles start attacking everything and everyone, and a series of nonsensical events transpire.
This seems like it should be the recipe for a rollicking good time—poorly animated birds of prey swooping down as the worst actors in the history of film flee in a Ford Aerostar (how is this not awesome?)—but the movie is so boring, so uninteresting, that even a woman being attacked by pooping birds isn’t funny. That’s impressive, because such an absurd scene should be inherently hilarious, but it isn’t, which is really a testament to how bad Birdemic is, that it can’t even pull this off in any capacity.
The only positive aspect in this whole thing is Nguyen’s seemingly unflappable enthusiasm, which is adorable, for a while. During production he appeared on a cable-access movie talk show (the entire interview is included on the DVD), and he honestly believed he was making something wonderful and important. In his commentary track he repeatedly states how he intended to make a serious film, and doesn’t entirely understand why it has been embraced in the manner it has. (It won’t take long for you to get sick of him comparing himself to Hitchcock—I’m all for loving your baby, no matter how ugly it is, but you can only stomach so much delusion.) But that hasn’t stopped him from jumping on and riding this train as far as it will take him. Surely he jests.
Another of the bonus feature is a compilation of footage of Nguyen at screenings of Birdemic as he passionately and earnestly introduces his film and answers audience questions, which tend to be along the lines of “why is your movie so awesome?”
Nguyen really is living the American Dream. He immigrated to the US after the fall of Saigon and is now smack in the middle of a mildly successful career as a film director, and writer, and producer, and shameless pitchman. That’s all well and good, and you can be happy for his success, but that doesn’t mean you should watch Birdemic. Even the glut of extras on the DVD—multiple commentary tracks, deleted scenes with commentary, a tour feature, and more—can’t save you from a truly horrid movie. If you’re interested in the rise of the film to cult status, the bonus material might be interesting, but, like the movie, they’re all way too long, and get wearisome if you’re not a hardcore fan. I wish I could give it a zero, or accurately convey what a pile of crap Birdemic is, but words simply cannot express the way I feel about this movie and the level of regret I feel after watching it.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.
"PopMatters (est. 1999) is a respected source for smart long-form reading on a wide range of topics in culture. PopMatters serves as…READ the article