What is a bad movie? Who decides? I’m reviewing this movie, Birdemic 3 – Sea Eagle, but am I really here to tell you whether Birdemic 3 – Sea Eagle is a good movie, or just to tell you that, at this point, it exists and it’s curious enough that I’ve thought about it long enough to put some words down? Perhaps both motivations are true here. I am not an arbiter of taste. I do not get to decide whether any movie is fundamentally good or bad. What I have done is seen enough movies that are good and enough movies that are bad that I can usually tell which side we’re on now. When we review such movies and say something like, wait, there is really something here, who are we trying to convince? I do not need you to believe Birdemic 3 – Sea Eagle is a good movie.
I don’t need to believe it myself. I don’t know that I believe it. I believe Birdemic 3 – Sea Eagle is a fine movie. Here’s what caught my interest — the festival quote notes: “Severin Films distributed the extraordinary Birdemic Shock and Terror in 2010 but was not involved in the less-well-received Birdemic 2. There were just too many cooks hovering over that pot.” Well then. The note proceeds to detail an enormous faith in director James Nguyen. Freed from the anchors of too many cooks, he went and made a movie and, draft unseen, Severin put their money back into it. They know a Golden Bird when they see one.
There’s a marked difference between the kinds of bad films James Ngyuen makes compared to, say, Tommy Wiseau. There is evident talent here: an ability to track a thought from conception to screen. What happens on camera is what is envisioned behind the camera. The dialogue is stilted because it’s played for a laugh. It succeeds on its terms, not the irony of its failures. There is cleverness in the essential replication of bad filmmaking practices. It’s beautiful during a shot-reverse-shot sequence how the camera will cut to other footage, a worse shot from a worse angle with worse audio recorded for it. And then back to the better shot at a standard angle with crisp audio. What this means is that James Ngyuen knows the difference.
This also does not mean the movie is inherently good. Though, the first half of it genuinely is. That’s when the film sits inside this awkward self-awareness, where the camera has sentience over its goofball nature. It’s about these parts where we hang out with characters and explore the periphery of their lives. It’s not just what’s happening with the birds. It’s awkward writing about global warming. Global warming is a serious issue. Everyone knows what it is. When you write global warming with a thudding simplicity, a basic introductory course to its very existence, that is funny. Because we know and we know how we are always told about it. When our characters stop for four minutes in silence and watch in a stupor as a family protests and shouts their seductively basic global warming slogans, it’s funny because we are being held captive, not being given relief from how awkward the filmmaking intends to be. We’re not sure anymore where the film is going because sometimes it’s not going anywhere. When it’s not going anywhere is — and here is the ultimate irony — when the film really works a certain kind of microbudget magic.
Where it absolutely falters is in the central premise, which sounds like a big issue but is just the ending of the film. When the Birdemic hits, it’s brutal. It does not have comedic tension because it’s just the movie doing the thing it says it’s going to do. It is good when the opening segment is like a swirling oceanic Vincent van Gogh perception of a bird-storm. It is less good when the birds just show up and do their Birdemic thing. That isn’t funny because we’ve seen it before. Also, because we’ve spent so much time with these characters now and this causes all of that to fall away in favor of bird-based escapades.
Birdemic is back. You didn’t even know it was gone, probably, having heard of the first film and not the second, but it has come back with a statement of intent: reclaiming the original work as an intentional satire of avian creature features. It’s super simple stuff but that’s also why it works out. The comedy is grounded in holding a note too long, in super awkward camera juxtapositions, of infringing upon their own film the necessities of low-budget filmmaking. Sure, it’s not going to surprise anyone: it still does what it says on the box. A storm of birds and now they’re Sea Eagles. That’s good and fine. What the box doesn’t tell you is that there is an effort here and that it pays off in a series of charming minor victories.