Netflix took the Holidays by storm with its original horror film Bird Box. With superstar Sandra Bullock in the lead role, the film’s propaganda put it somewhere between a suspenseful post-apocalyptic thriller and a ripoff from last year’s blockbuster hit, A Quiet Place. Audiences are divided over the film’s status where the Rotten Tomatoes poll shows “suspenseful masterpiece” trailing just a few percentage points behind “scare free mess.” Take the poll yourself and see where it is today.
For my part, a horror movie during Christmas season sounds like a damn fine way to kick back and relax just before resolution season. And with Netflix being hit or miss lately, I expected a next step in a “Hear No Evil – See No Evil – Speak No Evil” progression. I quite frankly don’t give a rip whether the idea was taken from a previous film. In the horror genre, there are few original concepts. There is always evil and it is either real, imagined, or supernatural. Movies that elevate the genre by taking old themes to new levels are just fine by me. So if Bird Box can show A Quiet Place just how suspenseful and resolute a sensory deprivation film can be, then I am all in.
But they didn’t. Or rather Bullock, the film’s producer, did not. But instead of having a discussion of which film did it better, let’s honor the forty-something percent of viewers who loved the movie and talk about why Bird Box is not the worst horror film ever.
It deserved a second look. I watched Bird Box twice in one month. I never watch a horror film a second time if it really sucks. Well, maybe I would watch it again if I was, say, held down and had my eyes pried open. Coincidentally, that happens in Bird Box. Try that sometime. Hold an adult person against their will restrained and simultaneously hold both of their eyes open long enough for them to fall victim to the Medusa-like curse. Just one of many plot holes in a movie that almost dares you to roll your eyes - open or closed.
It doesn’t cheat you out of plot holes. I’ve found myself consulting the “movie explained” articles and videos with increasing frequency after I’ve watched a film and said, “huh?” These nuggets are great at filling in plot holes even if sometimes they are made up fills. Bird Box has been criticized for such things as Bullock’s post-apocalyptic hair, make-up and clothes. But what I found missing entirely from the criticism were things like the availability of clean water, food, medical care, and, oh, the infrastructure required for a working GPS. Cited as one of the best scenes from the movie, did the survivors make a routine out of the dangerous grocery runs for 5 years or, since they had GPS, maybe they also had Amazon deliver the mountains of diapers they would have needed in the first three years.
It has adorable kids that give us something to cheer for. A lot of moms who uncharacteristically watched this “horror” movie reported suspense when the children were in danger. That’s really important here because the characters in this film are so uninteresting we don’t much care about them. Kids are an exception. Everybody cares about kids. So what suspense this movie did have was because of the kids. And speaking of kids, where are they? I mean in the beginning. Rewind back to the first scene and ask yourself, “Where are the children?” The evil made people kill themselves in horrible ways but what happened to the children? Did they succumb to slow death in the absence of caretakers? For all the moms who sat on the edge of their seats when the boat overturned on the river, here was some real potential for suspense. What happened to the children?
It has John Malkovich. If you haven’t seen Burn After Reading, Being John Malkovich or The Shadow of the Vampire, then skip the next Netflix film and watch those movies instead. Malkovich is a great actor who stands out in this cast of mostly uninteresting characters. He is the survivor you want to hate but his ruthlessness feels like it may be important to the plot. Unfortunately, they take him out early in the film and we are left with Bullock’s over the top, almost comical portrayal of a wanna be tough woman so disconnected from human contact that she won’t name her children. Malkovich’s character would steal the show and I submit that he had to be eliminated so as not to overshadow the heroine that we just don’t care about.
Horror fans love post-apocalyptic childbirth. So you can forgive the producer for double-downing on that concept here even though it turned out to be the worst scene in the movie. Even without Emily Blunt’s stunning performance in A Quiet Place, building more suspense with a single scream than all of the contrived scenes in Bird Box, the synchronized childbirth scene was awful. It was almost as if Bird Box was trying to make their scene as noisy and ridiculous as Blunt’s was quiet and brilliant. No wonder somebody jumped out the window.
The film has a lot of potential. What if the producers had focused on the title of the film and figured the bird box more prominently in the plot? What if the survivors learned early on that the birds sensed danger and could alert them of its presence. And what if they developed a theory that blind people are inherently exposed to unseen danger and surround themselves with birds as an alert system. And what if we go back to the missing children and instead of fast-forwarding five years with four characters, we focus on original survivors who, while caring for newborns, realize that children cannot kill themselves and use the bird box, GPS, and everything else that is a stretch in this film to locate the children and get everyone intentionally to the safety of a blind community. Because people smart enough and ruthless enough to survive for 5 years would have already figured that out.
The Happening may be the worst horror film ever. So by definition, Bird Box is not. For everyone who compared Bird Box to A Quiet Place and suggested the latter stole the concept (the book on which Bird Box is based was published in 2014), remember that M. Night Shyamalan did all of this back in 2008. I can see why you might have missed it – I missed it. And here again we have another reason to like Bird Box - it made me watch The Happening and The Happening made me appreciate Bird Box. The Happening is awful and you will have to hold me down, inject me with drugs, and staple my eyelids open to make me watch it again.
At the end of the day, I am fully on board with social media that suggests the best part about Bird Box is the memes. A dull plot with a cast of uninteresting survivors led by a woman barking out orders like R. Lee Ermey made my head hurt. Netflix can do better (watch The Haunting of Hill House). Bullock can do better (watch 28 Days). Malkovich didn’t get a chance to do better. And for all the time I spend watching horror movies, I will do better by dropping Bird Box in the recycle bin with two Netflix flops from last year: The Open House and Hold the Dark. I will save a little room in the bin for Netflix’s upcoming film, IO, just in case the pre-release reviews are right.