Movie Review: “Bird Box” (2018)

This review contains spoilers.

I am going to begin by echoing a sentiment shared by many while watching the newly-released Netflix film Bird Box: for most of the running time, I felt like I was watching A Quiet Place (2018). And The Happening (2008). It was like the two films got together and had a baby, and the result was Bird Box. Yes, I am mindful of the fact that the book this one was based on was written before A Quiet Place. But I can still say there was little differentiation between the two movies without accusing anyone of anything. The plots are remarkably similar, with this newer film showing the story of a mother and her two children (for all intents and purposes) trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world dominated by creatures that will cause you to kill yourself if you even catch the tiniest glimpse of them. So, we go from one movie where you can do anything but make a sound to one where you can do anything but take off your blindfold when outside. You may be surprised at how such different premises can play out almost identically.

The suicides and bizarre deaths are better portrayed than in The Happening, but anyone who has seen both movies will no doubt laugh at the similarities. I was waiting for an M. Knight Shyamalan cameo. One thing Bird Box has that A Quiet Place did not was an air of mystery surrounding the creatures. Almost immediately in A Quiet Place we are shown what they look like. And then we are shown them again and again to the point where something which was supposed to be terrifying no longer frightened or intrigued us. Bird Box does the unthinkable for a horror/sci fi film made in this generation: they don’t show us anything. Except for a shadow here or there, we do not see one iota of what these creatures are. All we get are the reactions from the victims who are looking at them. We can read all kinds of things in their faces. The audience has to work and think, something remarkable now.

One character gets incredibly sad. Another becomes somewhat content about death and asks, “Mom?” as she slowly walks into a fiery impending doom. There are also characters who get excited and say how beautiful it is before killing themselves and other characters who are not affected at all and are driven to insanity. Having not read the book, where an actual explanation may lie, we are left in the dark. The ending is an actual ending, not some ambiguous bullshit that we have grown accustomed to in contemporary horror, but there is no concrete telling on what the creatures look like or how they cause people to see the illusions they are offering. We only know one thing: if you look, you die.

Sandra Bullock does a fine job as the mother struggling ala Viggo Mortensen in The Road (2009) to get her kids to safety via a harrowing journey rafting down a river. After the people she is hiding out with are killed off one by one, she comes into radio contact with a safe community miles away and needs to make her way towards them—all while blindfolded. These creatures could be anywhere and seem to pop up at random. The only warning there is comes in the form of birds. They chirp like mad when they are around, and Bullock brings a box of them along. Her children are played by Julian Edwards and Vivien Lyra Blair.

As for the rest of the cast, B.D Wong is a homeowner that offers shelter to Bullock and others when all hell breaks loose. John Malkovich, who I forgot was still around and acting, plays his usual weird self as a neighbor also seeking shelter. He appears to be a war veteran by his actions, and his instincts, though unpopular, end up being right. Sarah Paulson makes a brief appearance in flashback scenes, and it was odd seeing her in something other than American Horror Story, which I recently binge-watched.

So what to rate Bird Box? For creativity, keeping in mind that this story was developed before A Quiet Place, I give high marks. However, the filmmakers should have done a better job in trying to distance it from what has already been done. While that may not be entirely fair, you can only play the “But this was written first!” card so many times. Hollywood history has seen hundreds of projects get altered because of story similarities, release timing, and marketing. It is an unfortunate byproduct of the industry. However, Bird Box is well-acted. Thank the Lord that we finally have a horror movie without screaming from start to finish. It is underplayed, except for a few characters, and becomes more enjoyable for that reason. Is it worth the hype you have seen on social media? No, but it is still decent enough and not a waste of time. 6.5 out of 10 stars.

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