bird box

Review: Bird Box is an ultimately disappointing Hot Flash in the Netflix Pan

By Jackson Mabe

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

Photo Courtesy of IMDb.com

Photo Courtesy of IMDb.com

As the medium of DVD’s slowly dies out to be replaced by digital media, Netflix has emerged as a leading streaming service that allows unprecedented instant accessibility to blockbuster movies and popular TV shows. In 2013, the streaming giant produced its first original content with the recently-concluded series House of Cards, and Netflix has consistently produced a constant stream of exclusive movies and shows ever since. The latest in-house movie to take the massive subscriber base (more than 130 million strong) by storm is the polarizing Bird Box, starring Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, and John Malkovich. At its best, Bird Box is an interesting story that tackles the trials and adjustments of motherhood; at its worst, this is a mediocre horror flick riddled with plot holes that struggles to separate itself from its contemporaries and influences.

For the uninitiated to Bird Box’s basic plot and accompanying viral challenge, the film concerns a group of survivors in the desolate aftermath of an apocalypse-like event where people are exposed to visions or creatures so terrible that they are immediately driven to suicide; after the film transitions from complete normality to virtual anarchy in the span of a few minutes (a scene depicting an everyday pregnancy ultrasound comes seconds before cars spontaneously explode in the streets), our protagonists finds themselves huddled together in a house with the blinds drawn as they struggle to comprehend what exactly is occurring.

They quickly realize that the group’s only chance for survival is to constantly keep their eyes closed or blindfolded when outside. Unfortunately, this plot point raises plenty of questions: are the creatures responsible for the worldwide suicides some kind of alien or ghosts? If we assume that they are ghosts, since they appear differently to everybody that sees them (similar to boggarts in the Harry Potter movies), then why can they be outrun and not enter homes through chimneys or opened doors? If they are physical aliens, why can they not open doors or remove people’s blindfolds by force, but still kill you through an image on a computer screen? Why do only people with mental illness see the creatures as beautiful and not “I-need-to-kill-myself” horrifying? These questions are never answered through the movie’s 2-hour runtime, and while disbelief can (and in some cases should) be suspended for the sake of entertainment, these glaring plot holes detract from the overall viewing experience.

After the makeshift clan is slowly whittled down to Bullock’s Malory, Rhodes’ Tom, and Malory’s two children (one adopted), five years of blind scavenging is cut to show the grizzled survivors raising the young duo to thrive without relying on vision, a la The Book of Eli. A quick botched venture to snag food from a nearby house results in Tom’s death, and Malory embarks on a dangerous venture downstream to a possible safe haven; after a journey down white-water rapids and a quick romp through a forest, where the creatures can now imitate voices and blow strong gusts of wind in Bullock’s direction, we are taken to a school for the blind where everyone is now safe.

Of course, it’s impossible to mention the plot of Bird Box without immediately thinking of 2018’s earlier blockbuster centered on sensory deprivation, A Quiet Place, where an alien race hunts down anyone who makes the slightest sound (both films also coincidentally focus on a pregnant woman and her struggles in a post-apocalyptic world). Released only eight months apart, the intensity of Netflix’s original seems stale in comparison to the unsettlingly silent John Krasinski production.

A notable difference between the two is the overall purpose and goals of the characters; whereas A Quiet Place entirely takes place several years after the predatory aliens’ arrival and therefore becomes a thriller around a singular family, much of Bird Box is dedicated to the societal conflicts that come about when different people are forced to work together for survival, similar to AMC’s The Walking Dead.

One good influence that the creators of this movie took to heart was the laudable ending of 1999’s The Blair Witch Project in leaving the monster’s appearance up to the audience’s imagination, although a scene was originally planned to show how Malory’s creature would appear to her, resembling a demonic baby to represent her fear of motherhood.

Another detail that is also disappointing is the lack of a character arc to almost everybody in this film; Malory is the only person who undergoes any notable transformation, from a cynical, reluctant future mother to an instinctive and cutthroat maternal figure. Every other character in this movie is present to either kill Malory or die in her place, which is a let-down given the solid cast.

This movie shines brightest near its endpoint, when Malory’s fierce devotion to saving the two children depending on her takes the spotlight. In these moments, as her willingness to be a mother and make tough decisions becomes her defining trait, the allegory for the apocalypse enhancing the trials and tribulations of adjusting to an expanding family becomes apparent. Unfortunately, this revelation comes about 90 minutes too late, and it far from saves the film.  

Despite passable acting from the stars, decent cinematography, and a thought-provoking subliminal meaning, Bird Box never reaches the expectations set by its massive hype; its inspirations in Blair Witch and A Quiet Place offer a good bit more in terms of creativity.  It is promising, however, to know that Netflix Originals can and have amassed enough of a fan base to support a film, and the massive community of subscribers can look forward to a flow of new productions for the foreseeable future.

Author’s recommendations for the horror genre: Hereditary (2018), The VVitch (2015), IT (2017), Annihilation (2018).