“Bird Box”: More than a meme, but still derivative


Ben Wheeler, Online Editor

It’s not often that a film is more well known for its meme status than its cinematic prowess, but “Bird Box” is a rare exception.  Seeing memes containing screen grabs from the film or videos of people attempting the “Bird Box Challenge” (AKA trying to complete everyday tasks while blindfolded), started to make me curious; how does the actual movie hold up?  

“Bird Box” is a 2018 post-apocalyptic thriller/horror based on a 2014 novel of the same name. Susanne Bier directs the story of Malorie (Sandra Bullock) through multiple time periods: present day where she is rowing a boat with two children down a river while all three are blindfolded, five years prior where a pregnant Malorie is with her sister when mysterious creatures arrive that cause humans to commit suicide when they see them, and a sort of bridge-the-gap time period between the two that details Malorie’s experiences with a group of survivors that she takes refuge with after the creatures make first contact.

Where “Bird Box” really makes an impact is in its ability to create anxiety and unease in those watching. The decision to not show what the creatures look like any form (though it is said they take the form of your greatest fear or loss) is pretty brilliant. By doing this, the film allows the viewer to create their own horrifying image of what the creature would appear as to them personally. The movie also utilizes a wide variety of sound effects for the monsters in their movements or vocalizations that adds to the uncertainty and fear of what these creatures could be. The lack of any kind of consistent score also adds to the tension felt throughout the film, as do the cinematography and visuals. With a few exceptions, when the characters are outside the sky is overcast, and the terrain is mucky and wet. When  the characters feel little hope, we feel just as desperate through the lack of positive imagery in the film. Another strong suit of this film is the combination between pacing and editing. Sometimes jumping back and forth between different points in the story is jarring, but here it is incredibly smooth. Just as we get curious about another point in time in the story, the film transitions to that time period and continues from that point. There’s also an uncanny feeling with the film that when you need to know something, the film shows you it; there are no frustrating “what is going on” moments.

So, what are the problems with the film? As it turns out, we’ve seen most of this story before.  Very powerful creatures invading earth and people trying to survive in a depressing future without a key physical sense? See “A Quiet Place” (2018), though it is worth noting that the Bird Box novel came before John Krasinski’s film. A creature that takes the form of your greatest fear, love or loss? We’ve seen that in “IT” (2017) and “It Follows” (2014).  Humans being forced to commit suicide through some sort of stimuli? The infamous “The Happening” (2008).

One way “Bird Box” does stand out from these other movies is the secondary threats/antagonists that are almost as dangerous as the mysterious creatures themselves.  In this film, while most people that see the creatures immediately fatally harm themselves as a result, the insane and mentally unstable are not affected in the same way. Instead, after seeing the creatures they are seemingly corrupted to the point to essentially becoming slaves for the  creatures, with the only goal for these unstable individuals being to get the mentally healthy (therefore not immune) people to look at the deadly entities. These crazy people constantly refer to the creatures as “beautiful” which is hauntingly disturbing.

As is the case with many horror films and some post-apocalyptic movies, “Bird Box” takes very little time to develop its characters, which can be frustrating at times, especially early in the film. A prime example is the character Malorie, whose disposition towards her pregnancy and later to the children (one of which is hers) that she and her eventual partner Tom (Trevante Rhodes) are raising by themselves is so extreme and negative at times that you wish you had more insight into her emotional state and the history behind it. You could of course chalk it up to the stress tied to their dreadful situation, which “Bird Box” does, but Malorie’s extreme way of handling the children has to be driven from some experience earlier in her life that the viewers don’t get to see. She doesn’t even name the children, referring to them as “boy” and “girl,” which just feels so cold and uncaring to the viewer that Malorie could almost be considered an unlikable character.  Malorie is just one of multiple characters whose negative actions or attitude are only explained by brief parts of dialogue, and some even aren’t explained at all, leaving you the viewer the responsibility of trying to make the characters’ rationales up in your head. As the characters’ circumstances and actions become more extreme, the lack of development feels more cheap in correspondence.

While I honestly recommend “Bird Box” to the casual viewer based on the more technical aspects and what the film does well, I would say its similarities to so many films that are still fresh in our memory may be a big turn off for some. According to Rotten Tomatoes’ official site, the film has a critic score of 64 percent, while the audience score comes in at 62 percent.