Whether it’s due to the apparently record-breaking viewership or the star-studded cast doing the best they can with the material given, the last couple of weeks have revolved around the newest Netflix original horror Bird Box. On paper, this film has a lot going for it, no doubt helping its sudden and enormous popularity. Even boasting an intriguing (though familiar) concept and appearances by familiar faces such as Trevante Rhodes and John Malkovich. Of course, Sandra Bullock is in the starring role, giving it her all for a story that is unfortunately far beneath her talents. Bird Box is listless and undercooked, blurring into a cheap distillation of a long list of better thrillers forgotten by passing years.
The premise is a simple one: blindfolds on, curtains shut. Just don’t look, because if you see it (whatever “it” may be), you’re either dead or turned insane. In a world where this unexplained monster could be lurking around any corner, single mother Malorie (Bullock, the only major pull of this film) leads two children (known only as Boy and Girl) to safety. As well as underwhelming attempts to make wading through a forest and river a captivating journey, we see flashbacks to the first appearance of the entities. These scenes are riddled with plot holes and distractingly weird choices (honestly, when was the last time you were in a grocery store that sells pet birds?) and stock characters too lifeless to ponder the whereabouts of after they’ve departed from the story.
The premise, at least, is interesting: an unspeakable looming entity that’ll drive those who see it to suicide or madness. A better film would use this to explore a wealth of narrative possibilities; Bird Box fails to realize the full potential. Take for example the subplot of survivors who are entranced by the monster, turned insane and hoping to force vulnerable survivors to stare and take in its apparent beauty. This could have been the saving grace that added some genuine tension, but winds up half-baked in execution, as though thrown in to give side characters something to do and ensure Malorie earns her heroine title.
The rest of the ensemble cast are characterized by basic traits we’ve all seen before — a young, naive mother who wound up being more insufferable than I imagine the writers intended. A tattooed bad boy who abruptly disappears from the storyline without a proper explanation. Then there’s Malorie herself, who leaves much to be desired and doesn’t feel like a proper lead character. The hype behind this film seems to lie in Sandra Bullock’s brilliant performance. A great one, as always, but perhaps as effortless as she makes it look: the need to survive is the character’s only personality trait. It’s easy to root for her given the situation she’s in, but the character of Malorie herself doesn’t offer anything palatable let alone interesting to watch.
It’s a shame, as we’ve seen this premise beautifully done before in film quite recently — A Quiet Place rightfully took center stage in popular culture when it was released, a tense film meant to be watched and worthy of a critical eye due to its unique reliance on visuals. Upon the volume of comparisons being made between this film and Bird Box, Bird Box’s ultimate undoing hit me — it was originally a novel and it definitely should have remained as such. On the screen, there’s no heart to the story — why provide visuals for something that isn’t meant to be seen? The ambiguity of the novel is lost in the film adaptation, shoving all horror and suspense out the window alongside it. Perhaps Bird Box could’ve been done better, or perhaps some prose should be left untouched. A well done audio book or radio play might have done a better job.
If you’ve seen any mediocre post-apocalyptic thriller of the past decade, you’ve already seen Bird Box and the clichés that come with it. It’s on everyone’s mind at the moment, sure, but save yourself the time and skip it — you’re probably due for a re-watch of A Quiet Place anyway.