Fantastic Fest Review: Birdemic 3 – Sea Eagle

Year: 2022
Runtime:  83 minutes
Director: James Nguyen
Writer: James Nguyen
Cast: Ryan Lord, Julia Culbert, Marc DeNola, Alan Bagh

By Harris Dang

When you watched the film (or even the clips of) “Birdemic – Shock and Terror (2010), did you in your wildest dreams ever think that we would get a trilogy out of it? Well, dream no more! Twelve years after the release of the original, we have the epic final(?) chapter from the Master of the Romantic Thriller* James Nguyen, “Birdemic 3 – Sea Eagle” (2022).

There were murmurs that there were too many outside interferences in the making of “Birdemic 2 – The Resurrection” (2013), which resulted in something that did not meet Nguyen’s expectations. Critics had said the sequel was too self-referential; that it took away the so-bad-it’s-good charm of the original film as well as the sincerity behind it. Consequently, he had been given complete creative control for the third instalment, which can only be a good thing, right?

“Birdemic 3 – Sea Eagle” (2022) tells the story of gerontologist Evan (Ryan Lord) and marine biologist Kim (Julia Culbert). The two meet for the first time at the Santa Cruz Pier, where Kim had been gathering water samples for her research. The chemistry between the two becomes electric when Kim explains her intentions with her work.

She talks about the impending doom of climate change while Evan states his noble views on prolonging our human existence so we can live life to the fullest, leading the two to start dating and traveling to places where Alfred Hitchcock had his inspirations of creativity. However, there is a huge price to be paid for humanity’s impulsive actions as nature begins to strike back once again. It looks like the bird is the word.

To be completely frank, the “Birdemic” films are basically critic-proof. No matter how much we critique the films on a cinematic level, audiences are clearly not looking for anything that resembles quality. They want basically the anti-thesis of quality – incompetence on every filmmaking level that skews toward unintentional hilarity. They may have to think again for the latest instalment as “Birdemic 3” is the best instalment of the trilogy on a cinematic level.

On the positive front, the production values are slightly improved as we see the cinematography and lighting being more visually appealing. Secondly, there is very little of the self-referential humour that had plagued “Birdemic 2 – The Resurrection”, which makes Nguyen’s intentions inescapably clear and his message about climate change ringing slightly more into truth. Thirdly, the film opens up more about Nguyen’s love of Alfred Hitchcock as the film takes on being a travelogue; exploring filming locations and discussing trivia. Hell, Nguyen even shows up in a cameo aping the man, which provides credence into his felt sincerity.

Which leads to the film’s more guiltier pleasures. Because of its po-faced earnestness and the lack of metatextual humour, the film manages to go back its former glories of unintentional comedy nirvana. As mentioned earlier, the film does not drown itself in the latter. However, it does not mean that the film does not indulge in callbacks to the original.

Alan Bagh (who looks like a young Zach Galifianakis) returns to reprise his role as Rod from the first two films and delivers what is easiest the funniest line involving the absence of Whitney Moore, who played Nathalie. There is a riff of the classic boardroom scene in the original film returns with what should be called the grant scene. There is another song-and-dance sequence featuring our intrepid leads and there is a particular prop from the original film making a return that is laugh-out-loud funny due to how out of place it is.

But the film has some of its own tricks(?) up its sleeve. Almost every character interaction in the film feels like a lecture or a sermon about the follies of climate change. If you follow that up with the shoddy staging and wooden performances from the cast, you will realize that it is astounding to see that Nguyen has not learned a single thing about brevity, subtlety or something that pertains to actual human interaction.

There is one scene where Evan watches the television and it is showing a program about the consequences of climate change. The level of incompetence on display reaches a level of comedy that the longer the scene goes, the funnier it gets. The camera pans left and right in slow succession while cutting to the same reaction shot of Evan watching and it goes on to an amusingly interminable degree. There are moments where the characters – including a millionaire by the name of Mr. Green who vows to help the planet with the invention of a space elevator — are clearly reading off of cue cards or look like they do not care about the filming circumstances and all of it is brazenly up on the screen leading to lots of hilarity.

The big miss of the film is that the pacing is glacial. Those who are expecting more of the same gonzo badness of the original film will be slightly disappointed as most of the action is set in the third act. And even then, the level of bird action does not quite cut it, even if we see Bagh pull off a spin kick while fighting off sea eagles.

Overall, “Birdemic 3 – Sea Eagle” (2022) is the true sequel that Nguyen wanted to make after the original film. While that may not be what audiences wanted in terms of gonzo hilarity, Nguyen’s good intentions alongside his amusingly incompetent filmmaking may win you over.

“Birdemic 3 – Sea Eagle” had screened as a part of Fantastic Fest 2022. Click the image above to find out more.

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