Friday 3 May 2013

Birdemic 2 - Mulholland Drive Meets The Birds

I was lucky enough to attend the UK premiere of the eagerly anticipated Birdemic 2, The Resurrection, at the London Sci-Fi Film Festival with the cast & crew attending. And as I am writing this, I still cannot decide whether to give it minus 15 stars or 5 stars. It probably deserves both.

The cult of "so good it's bad" films is nothing new, however it has been growing and growing over the years. Its point is to celebrate some films, usually from the 70's and especially the 80's, and usually sci-fi/horrors (but not always) who, thanks to an ultra low budget way, terrible acting, inept script and atrocious direction, or sometimes, all of the above, are so excruciatingly bad that they become hilarious, almost endearing in some cases, with some of them garnering a real fan following. That sort of films that is best enjoyed with mates after a few beers, and some cinemas have caught up on this. For example, the Prince Charles in London, with its established The Good Mad Movie monthly film club, whose screening of Masters Of The Universe I shall never forget for many reasons.

But this is done affectionately, films fans usually reserving their hateful scorn for more cynical money spinning blockbusters, and sometimes the line between enjoying those bad/good films because they are terrible, or just because they are, well, enjoyable, is becoming more and more blurred.

However the cult status has to be earned, and these films are all the more enjoyable when a director is truly convinced that he is making something special and does not for a second realise the awfulness of it all. But is not good enough to be terrible to be so good it's bad. Take for example Piranha 3DD, which I just watched.  Painfully unfunny and mildly more entertaining than the footage of a colonoscopy, it deserves to sink in an ocean of nothingness.

So among this sea of bad films came Birdemic: Shock And Terror a few years ago, which I shamefully never saw, but became infamous for truly being one of the worst films ever made. Therefore I jumped on the occasion to watch its sequel, imaginatively called Birdemic 2: The Resurrection, at the Sci-Fi festival in London, which had its UK premiere with the director and the two male leads attending. I was a little dubious as I am concerned that this bad/good film trend might become a little forced, especially since before seeing it, I was wondering if the film tried a little too hard to be bad. I need not have worried. Birdemic 2 turned out to be something else entirely, a truly unique experience.

While the first film was just an ultra low budget about a small town being under attack from CGI birds, this one takes on a whole new dimension, thanks to the relocation to Hollywood, which is by far its best idea. In fact, the first half of the film features no birds whatsoever. Instead, we follow director with a vision Bill (Thomas Favoloro) as he tries to get his new project Sunset Dreams made, with the help of Birdemic 1 survivor/web entrepreneur Rod (Alan Bagh). They enlist waitress/actress wanabee Gloria (Chelsea Turnbo) as well as Rod's girl-friend Nathalie (Whitney Moore) in the cast, and just as their dream of making it happen comes true, killer birds rise from some prehistoric tar because of some blood rain (don't ask) and attack! Who will live? Who will die? Who will kung-fu the birds into oblivion?

Don't get me wrong, Birdemic 2 is a bad film, a terrible film. It might have a bigger budget than the first one allegedly (as the director pointed out with a straight face at the Q&A, it was easier this time as they had a crew), the amateurish level of it all has to be seen to be believed. Filmed with what looks like a fairly low-res handheld camera from five years ago, with no sense of cinematography or lighting whatsoever (with most of it often either over or underexposed with whatever natural light was on), with live sound recording meaning that the dialogue in street scenes is often drowned by the traffic, it has lower production values than an amateur porno, and far worst acting. A particularly laughable scene has the cast walk around a crowded seaside promenade, with everybody else having their face blurred, since the production could not afford extras so they just threw their actors in an unsuspecting crowd.

Some scenes are just complete running time fillers, like a "club" scene (but really somebody's living room with some random people added in the background) stretched to about ten minutes for no reason whatsoever, except the chance to see the main cast display some killer moves on the dance floor (and some particularly poor tastes in shirts).

And that is even before the "mayhem" begins. Oh boy, those "special" effects... You might be familiar with the perfectly average CGI of all those boring Asylum studio films, such as Croconosaur Versus Kittenanaconda or The Two Headed Shark, but this is something else! As an appetizer, we are treated to a killer jellyfish that looks like a badly animated Word 95 Clip Art icon. And as for the birds themselves, they look like they have been added at post-production with crayons over scenes of the actors hitting the air with brooms to shoo them away, I mean, savagely kill them. And the same effect of the birds dying is used repeatedly, completely out of sync with whatever the actors are doing to kill them: they get split into half while the CGI "artist" quickly draws a red (read bloody) line over them.

The budget is so low that when a scene requires an ambulance, this proving too expensive, it is replaced by a CGI one which elicited the biggest laugh from the audience. As for the dialogue, it is hilariously inept, reaching an almost surreal quality in parts, made even worse by the wooden delivery of the actors. A choice example"He's dead. She's dead. They're dead. He's dead (repeated ad infinitum in the second half). Or "The trees are being made into toilet paper!"

So what sets this apart from Platypus versus Sharktopus? For one, the film is terribly entertaining (shame that the second half becomes a little repetitive though, despite the completely random yet welcome appearance of some zombies), even though you are never quite sure whether you are laughing at it, or with it. And all the characters without exception are perfectly likeable, down the the obligatory tart with a heart and a cow-boy hat.

There is something very endearing in the way the film offers a tribute to all of those Hollywood hopefuls who come over from the middle of Arkansas or wherever, with stars in their eyes, trying to make it big in the business. And Birdemic 2 somehow mirrors their situation in its script but also the way it has been conceived, in a dizzying, film within a film/hall of mirrors kind of way. Witness Gloria (Chelsea Turnbo): a pretty blonde actress/waitress whose Hollywood dream has turned sour after years of trying, Mulholland Drive style, and who was about to give up and leave Tinseltown, just as she gets spotted and cast for her "big break". It is not far fetched to imagine that the actress herself is in a very similar situation, waitressing in between small acting gigs such as this one. There is also a nod to the less salubrious side of the city of dreams, as she feels obliged to repay the favour to her director for the chance he has given her. And bless her, let's just say her acting ability is unlikely to make her the next Jennifer Lawrence.

Same for Thomas Favoloro as Bill, whose first film this is and who is very sweet (both on and off screen), but who is an absolutely terrible actor. He seemed to be rather enjoying the limelight at the premiere, probably seeing this as a step towards bigger things, and how many like him are they, who might appear in a couple of films before vanishing into obscurity or being crushed by the Hollywood nightmare?

In fact, the film even has a touchingly naive attempt to post-modernism (remember post-modernism in films in the 90's?), in a scene which has a character claiming this situation is giving him a really good idea of a script in which birds attack Hollywood, and which as the actors/director express their enthusiasm to be part of that project. Another scene has the less experienced Nathalie asking Gloria for some acting tips, to which she responds with some of the least convincingly acted dialogue (oh, the irony of it all!)

But above all, what pervades throughout the film is a real love for cinema. It is not a stretch to imagine that Bill is director's James N'Guyen alter ego, who, as we saw at the Q&A, shares the same wide-eyed enthusiasm and blind faith as the character. And the film is literally peppered with references to Hollywood classics such as Sunset Boulevard (especially a very iconic death scene), something you would not see in Snakes On A Train or Transmorphers. Similarly, the director went on to express his love for Hitchcock at the Q&A and how he had got all excited about being in London and seeing all the landmarks of the cult director's work, giving us no doubt about his passion for films. Obviously, he HAD to have a scene set in a cinema screen, where birds attack an audience (read: friends and families of the cast were filmed shaking their arms in mock horror and laughing while the birds were drawn over them)

In Mulholland Drive, we had a first half evoking an almost idyllic version of Hollywood before turning on its head and showing its darker, ugly side. In here it is as if we are seeing the two sides of city of cinema, not just in the actual film, but in the way the project of Birdemic 2 itself represents the flip side of the dream, the lower end of the spectrum, filled with trashy, zero budget horrors, all of those who try but will never make it, the gutter which is looking at the stars but from very far away. I am probably reading way too much into this, but once has to wonder if the birds' attack does not represent a very similar Lynchian tale in which a film director and its crew are being hunted by their own dream turned into a nightmare, which in here would be Hitchcock classic The Birds.

It is hard to tell whether, should James N'Guyen be given millions of dollars to make a film, he would come up with a better result. But there is almost a Ed Wood-esque quality to the way nothing will stop him from his dream of making films, not the lack of budget, not the lack of visible talent, not a script that makes no sense whatsoever, nothing at all. And as he seemed to rejoice in the warm reception from Birdemic fans in the audience, I could not tell whether he exhibited a complete lack of self-awareness and truly believed he had made a decent film. I was reminded of that saying from German choreographer Pina Bausch :"Tanzt, sonst sind wir verloren" (Dance or we are all doomed) when watching Birdemic 2, and it could well be the moral of Birdemic 2: "Make some films, at all cost, no matter what, or we are all doomed!"

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