It’s tough to make bad movies in the Age of Irony. Once you reach a certain level of badness, it raises a slew of questions: is it an “ironically bad” movie, where the director is tossing us a wink-wink-nudge-nudge with every line of face-clawing dialogue? Or is the whole debacle a deliberate attempt at “look at our reverential homage” bad? (Cough cough, Inglourious Basterds.) Or maybe it’s “look at how bad this is but it’s so bad it’s actually good, and if you don’t think so then you don’t ‘get it'” bad? The whole thing gets so confusing (I have had it with this motherfucking irony in these motherfucking films!).
But what we can’t handle is the notion that a movie is JUST THAT BAD. The implication is too astounding: a human being actually made a sincere effort to produce something good, that resulted in a bottomless maw of pullulating awfulness. The idea throws us into a tailspin. How could the poor schmuck who made this frothing crockpot of pigshit not REALIZE how awful it was? How could he keep going? How could he not know how relentlessly he’d be mocked on the Internet if this catastrophe got released? The notion that such an un-self-aware person exists is too much to process — and as such, when someone does succeed in being so utterly guileless and making a movie that is UNGODLY BAD AND HE HAD NO IDEA, then we turn it into a cult classic out of sheer disbelief that such an earnest, non-jaded human still exists.
Which brings us to James Nguyen. He’s the living embodiment of everything Internet-addled snarkomatics love to tear down: a mid-level software salesman in Silicon Valley, in a Men’s Wearhouse suit, with a buzz cut high and tight, who one day woke up with the epically bad idea to make a low-budget horror movie. He then spent a hefty chunk of his free time and money writing, directing and producing one of the deepest pits of raw sewage ever shown onscreen. And, my dear irony addicts, after four years, he finished it.
The result, for those who don’t faithfully spend their Friday nights reading horror blogs (ahem) is Birdemic: Shock and Terror, and its infamy is growing. The plot — oh fuck it, there is no way I’m discussing this movie seriously. Just watch the clip.
So yeah. It’s bad. Break-the-fourth-wall bad. “I cannot physically take another second of this without asphyxiating in a pool of my own pancreatic juice” bad. Don’t believe me? Go see the entire thing at IFC this weekend (it’s there for a VERY limited engagement).
And yet at the heart of all that awfulness, there is something pure. At some point, the badness transcends itself and becomes a metaphor for human possibility. Nguyen’s cluelessness knows no bounds — dude drove a bus up and down the street during Sundance demanding that people watch his (summarily rejected from the film festival, since Sundance judges are a generally sane lot) film. And yet there’s something inspiring about the unlikeliest of filmmakers spending FOUR YEARS of his time and money creating a movie that so unequivocally sucks.
Why? Because, while we may laugh at him (I mean, not to be a bitch, but Jesus have you seen that clip???), we also reserve a little bit of awe — at the end of the day, it’s hard not to admire someone who can exist so entirely in his own universe, free from the persecution and perceived criticism of others. There’s no fear, no damning inner dialogue that floods him with doubt after every abysmal take: “But everyone will laugh at me! The Internet will erupt in practiced disdain, and bloggers will spew verbal giblets of well-honed snark and boil my self-esteem in peanut oil!” Just think how many books/movies/albums/Tumblrs/Youtube clips/LOLcat captions weren’t finished, sometimes weren’t even STARTED, because of that mental conversation? Just think how many of those sloppily aborted projects might have been GOOD! I once heard a brilliant writer say he’d written a novel, but banished it to a drawer after reading a blog comment saying his writing was “watery and subfuse.” I don’t know what the fuck that means, but it had this poor dude writhing in a millpond of creation-stomping self-hatred and throwing years of work on the fire.
But none of that exists for Nguyen. He floats above the bounding main of criticism, nestled in his determination and refusal to quit. There is only his dream, and a cashed-out 401K, and a crew of actors fired from Valtrex ads, and an unyielding desire.
So yes, Birdemic really is that bad. But at the end of the day, Nguyen wrote, directed, and completed a feature-length horror film, and now all the cool Internet kids are talking about it. So who’s the moron now?
Melissa Lafsky has got principles of pleasure.