James Nguyen hammers down the end of his bad-movie trilogy with a true stinker of birdemic proportions… and not in a fun way.
(This review is part of our coverage of Fantastic Fest 2022.)
With its stilted acting, incompetent screenplay and direction, and special effects that looked like someone puttering around with After Effects for the very first time, James Nguyen’s “ecological horror” film Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010) became a cult favorite among bad film fanatics, especially latecomers to the hoopla surrounding The Room looking for something they could claim as their own.
Although I have not seen Nguyen’s 2013 followup Birdemic 2: The Resurrection, Fantastic Fest has seen fit this year to showcase the ambitious end to the “trilogy,” Birdemic 3: Sea Eagle. To no one’s surprise, not only have Nguyen’s filmmaking skills failed to develop in any meaningful way in the decade-plus since the first, they’ve actually atrophied.
One fine day along the beaches of Santa Cruz, hunky gerontologist Evan (Ryan Lord) meets marine biologist Kim (Julia Culbert) and finds that they have many things in common—chiefly the ability to describe their respective fields in ways that make them sound like they’re reading off Wikipedia. They decide to go out on a date that finds them wandering around town in a manner that suggests what Before Sunrise might have been like if Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy had been hit in the head with pieces of lumber before every take and takes them to establishments where I assume Nguyen could either shoot for free or quickly flee from as soon as the cops arrived.
The effects here somehow look even shabbier than before, as if they were designed and executed by a computer system still requiring punch cards.
They encounter a tiny environmental protest that goes on so long Greta Thunberg herself would grow impatient. They meet a surfer who complains that global warming has caused such a rise in the number of sharks in the local waters that he might have to consider stopping. They run into the wealthiest man in the world, a pseudo-Elon Musk who claims to be working on a space elevator that just might help to save the world. They dance in what appears to be someone’s rec room in a scene that must be seen to be (dis)believed. Eventually, they express their physical attraction in a scene staged by someone who knows that many cinematic sex scenes include slow-motion but doesn’t know why it’s there.
At this point, nearly two-thirds of the way through the film, the birdemic finally arrives in the form of pissed-off sea eagles that “swoop” in to attack humanity by tearing out their throats or blowing things up. In the first Birdemic, these visuals appeared to have been achieved by whatever cut-rate effects program came packaged with Nguyen’s discount computer. You would think that 12 years of technological advances would have resulted in something better-looking, even by default. But the effects here somehow look even shabbier than before, as if they were designed and executed by a computer system still requiring punch cards.
Finally, after 20-odd minutes of vaguely indiscriminate slaughter, the birds fly off, leaving our heroes to contemplate mankind’s crimes against ecology and viewers to contemplate what they have just seen. It’s the exact same thing as the first Birdemic, only somehow dumber.
In a film where literally nothing works, it is a challenge to determine what is the single worst thing about it. There are the atrocious performances from the two leads that feel more like imperfect computer simulations of human beings than actual people. The shoddy “action” scenes seem to have been designed primarily to inspire ironic memes rather than entertain moviegoers. Nguyen’s utter incompetence as both a writer and a director—his screenplay contains more padding than a junior high dance, demonstrating the kind of directorial flair typically found in home movies.
Imagine that you’re a budding young filmmaker who’s put everything you had—financially, artistically, and emotionally—into producing your first feature and submitting it to Fantastic Fest, only to get rejected. Then they get a look at the fest schedule and discover that one of those slots was given to Birdemic 3 purely off the bad-movie cachet of the original. That sad fact is the second worst thing about Birdemic 3. The first? That this one (technically) leaves the door open for a Birdemic 4.