I sat down and watched Bird Box on Netflix earlier this week. Like any bigger budget, A list celebrity horror film I went in with more than a few preconceived notions about what I was going to see. Add to this the social media hype and the racial connotations being ascribed after the fact to the film as well as that ever present “it’s not horror, it’s a thriller” argument and I knew this was going to be a chore. What I expected to be a dull, grueling, and unpleasant watch was instead interesting and marginally entertaining but, overall, it wasn’t the sensational closer of 2018 that everyone’s been making it out to be.
Warning, there will be spoilers. Better put the blindfolds on now.
Blindfolds on, kids.
Bird Box follows Malorie (Sandra Bullock) and her children who were named Boy and Girl. It's been five years since unidentified and completely unseen creatures invaded the earth and brought about the collapse of society. These creatures didn't do it with guns, diseases, or intricate plots. They simply look so horrific and terrifying that their image drives people mad and causes them to commit suicide. Unless, that is, you're already insane at which time you simply become a disciple of these horrifying beings.
Like any movie I’ve reviewed I try to take the things I like and weigh them against the things I don’t like. Let’s start with the pros.
The Subtlety of the Apocalypse
We've been inundated with end of the world scenarios in film and literature over the last 15 years. Whether it's the apocalypse or the post-apocalypse it's all pretty much the same: distrustful humans fighting nature, creatures, and most importantly each other until the screen is red with blood.
Bird Box gives us both the end of the world and the aftermath both without the hoary exploitative imagery we've come to expect of the genre. There was still gore, violence, and suspense without the parade of brutality and uninspired visualizations these kind of films usually rely on.
Not Seeing the Monsters
This is a bold choice for what, through the previews, would at first appear to be a creature feature. If you’re making a monster movie the key is to eventually show us the monster. From internet gossip, however, this was never the intent of Bird Box and the monster that was created to appease one loud mouthed exec involved a large green man with a weird baby face. Truthfully, though, the movie works with the implication of some maddening creature. In my opinion, it actually gave the story a bit of an unintentional Lovecraftian feel to it.
Lovecraft often designed his stories around ancient, otherworldly figures whose mere presence would drive mortal men into insanity and, often times, death. This is true for the creatures in Bird Box who drive otherwise healthy, sane individuals into sudden self destructive acts. Meanwhile, those who are effectively insane become more or less supplicants who worship the beings seeing them as some glorious new gods. They run around trying to open everyone’s eyes to the glory of their unseen masters.
What Doesn't Work?
Stock Characters & Flat Performances
I’ve seen all of these characters before. None of the characters in Bird Box feel exceptionally original. Their back stories and flaws are familiar, even stereotypical at times, and their reactions to the end of the world are as predictable as the ending itself. Meanwhile, the A list cast including Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, B.D. Wong, Sarah Paulson, John Malkovich, Jacki Weaver, and Tom Hollander (to name most) all offered phoned in performances that could have been delivered as well by amateurs and newcomers. I’m honestly convinced now that John Malkovich just plays himself in everything he does and just allows the dialogue to give the illusion that he is acting. There are some good scenes, interactions, and dialogue but they’re spread out through the film and not really consistent.
Sorry, John. But, hey, I loved you in Shadow of the Vampire.
The story itself feels like a rehash of The Happening while the removal of a sense is akin to A Quiet Place. Instead of being silent you have to be sightless to avoid the monsters. At least it wasn’t two hours to find out the trees were killing everyone, though, watching Marky Mark try to negotiate a peace treaty with an oak would at least have added some levity to the otherwise depressing and formulaic plot.
Not Seeing the Monsters
You marketed it as a creature feature. People hid their eyes to avoid being driven mad by a creature. A silhouette. A clawed hand. A close up on a set of terrifying eyes. It would have at least shut that exec up who wanted the monster in it. Truthfully, I’m more of a “no monster” fan for this movie. The drawings done by our madman Tom Hollander towards the end of the movie really offered us a glimpse at either what was out there or what had been planned to be lurking out there. Either way, the addition of at least one creature, even as just some kind of hallucination would have appeased a large part of the audience from what I’ve been reading. There again, it is harder to try and win an Oscar if you have a monster in your not a horror film horror film...I mean, thriller.
Meanwhile, everyone is putting their own two cents in about Bird Box. You can turn almost any story into a metaphor for race, religion, sex, politics or all of the above. If people are finding a racial component to the story or any other social metaphor then congratulations. I hope you can use it for a cause that betters our lives. From my perspective, Bird Box was a timid, uninspired story that's biggest draw was seeing Sandra Bullock in a horror movie. And, yes, Bird Box is a horror movie. Whenever you have an A list cast in a horror flick, everyone becomes insistent that it’s a “thriller” and not the second dirtiest word in Hollywood: horror. The first dirtiest, of course, is porn which is often treated as the kissing cousin of horror but that’s another topic for another day.
Bird Box is just over 2 hours long (about 45 minutes more than it needs) and is streaming now on Netflix.