Years ago, Jon Lovitz lent his voice to an animated series called The Critic, in which his character, Jay Sherman, would succinctly pronounce his verdict on most of what he was tasked to watch: "It stinks."
A review interested in keeping to the content of Birdemic: Shock and Terror could probably be summed up thusly. It is, truly, one of the worst films ever made and last Friday night's midnight screening of the flick at The Cinefamily in Los Angeles did not pretend otherwise. To paraphrase the venue's co-programmer who introduced the film, it's an absolute joy to watch "for this kind of thing," but to commit two hours to the entirety of the picture is to engage in something of an endurance sport. (Thankfully, The Cinefamily hands out free beer at the start of screenings.)
As the title credits roll, the film opens on a winding road. I'm not giving away any part of the story to tell you it winds for a while, as the same thirty seconds of music plays on loop. As credits for Editing and Cinematography appeared on the screen, the audience's first 'Boo!' escaped, causing the entire theater to erupt in laughter.
And so it begins, a tale of a young salesman who falls in love with a fashion model, and spends the rest of the film running away from sharp-taloned seagulls that defecate explosives and urinate acid. (No, I'm not making this up.)
There is more to the plot than that, but not much more. Scenes throughout the film touch ineloquently on a variety of current affairs topics, among them bird flu, the Iraq war, and the environment. For example, after a particularly long shoot-out scene, one character turns to the other and, apropos of nothing, says, "I'm just so tired of the killing in Iraq." "Ok," I thought, "but what does that have to do with the killer birds? And is that piece of dialog why the director claims Apocalypse Now and The Birds as inspiration for this film?
Despite--or perhaps because of--it's many struggles with dialog and camerawork, Birdemic has attracted national attention and a distribution deal. How, you ask? Having failed to get into Sundance, the 42-year old filmmaker James Nguyen drove a van covered in fake blood and posterss around the streets of the festival, as loudspeakers blared the sounds of screeching birds.
And that act illuminates what makes Birdemic appealing enough for comedians like Rainn Wilson to tweet about it: its inadvertent exemplification of the camp aesthetic.
Birdemic hews a close line to the conventions associated with box-office thrillers, from start to finish. But in executing them poorly it draws attention to their simplicity and ridiculousness. Why exactly is the lead actor dragging around this screaming broad he only met a short time ago? And doesn't the presence of children complicate the whole survival thing? (Ah yes, they're a family, and families survive--and thrive at the box office.) Logically piecing through Birdemic makes as much sense as doing the same to Transformers or Batman. Don't look for logic, just suspend disbelief and enjoy the pretty pictures.
Which one can't do while watching Birdemic and that is why it crosses the line into a camp classic. Some filmmakers, like John Waters in Pink Flamingos, work diligently to create the same aesthetic that Nguyen, through a lack of skill, accomplished by accident. But whereas a film like Pink Flamingos is actively trying to undermine social conventions to prove a point, Birdemic makes every attempt to hit the nail on the head, and misses without grace.
And that makes it hilarious--a kind of funny where one is laughing as much at the conventions we all subscribe to each summer at the box office as the ramshackle shenanigans on-screen.