January 10, 2019

Bird Box Fails to Think Outside the Box

Although the horror film dominated internet and meme culture, it proved generic and failed to excite or scare.

Courtesy of Netflix

This past holiday season, Bird Box—Netflix’s newest original film—unexpectedly took over the internet. This is not the first time this sort of phenomenon has happened to a Netflix production—the hype around Stranger Things particularly comes to mind—but it is the first time that a Netflix movie has been successful to this degree. Netflix is proud of the commotion; notoriously tight-lipped about viewer counts, the streaming service announced its most successful opening week ever for an original movie, with more than 45 million accounts watching 70 percent of Bird Box or more in its first seven days online.

Either the average Netflix viewer is not very discerning when it comes to movie quality, or I missed something with this horror/thriller, because for the life of me I don’t understand why Bird Box has generated such a positive reputation. It is a generic horror film that, like so many others, squanders an interesting premise with a generally uninteresting cast and sloppy writing. The film opens with, and later revisits, the framing device of Sandra Bullock’s character Malorie guiding two children toward safety while wearing blindfolds. The reason for this choice of eyewear is almost Lovecraftian: Creatures invade Earth, and anyone who looks at them goes immediately crazy and commits suicide. This is all revealed in flashback scenes, which comprise most of the film, showing the events following the monsters’ initial appearance in Malorie’s town.

These flashback scenes are where the problems begin in Bird Box. After setting a grim and mysterious atmosphere with the opening scene of Malorie and her two kids, the scenes have a painfully generic tone and structure. The interesting aspects of the movie’s cryptic enemies are all but abandoned in favor of zombie media’s favorite trope: a group of people, each with laughably specific and one-sided personalities, trapped in a house, hiding from the monsters outside. A couple of them are pregnant. A couple of them are sketchy. One is suspicious of everyone else. If I’d wanted to watch such a stereotypical horror movie, I’d watch a parody, like Shaun of the Dead. Sandra Bullock’s acting is as wooden as it’s been recently, and the rest of the cast is either boring, unconvincing, or both. The only exception is John Malkovich, who can make any movie at least somewhat watchable with his expressive performance style.

The framing device scenes of Bullock have the unfortunate side effect of completely killing all tension for the flashback scenes. You know who survives and can pretty much assume everyone else dies. Things somehow get even worse by the time the flashback scenes chronologically catch up to the framing device. The creatures are never shown in the film—a good choice—but their powers and motivations are so vague that any threat I felt near the beginning of the movie was completely diffused by the end. The climax is a The Happening–style chase through a forest with a breeze faintly ruffling leaves behind the main characters. It is unclear what the viewer is supposed to be tense about. Do these monsters want to hurt people? If they can physically touch humans, why can’t they go inside cars or houses? Why aren’t mentally ill people affected? This film’s rules are never established, so the tension is never fully there.

While I didn’t find Bird Box offensively bad, I was disappointed with the film overall. It had so much hype built up around it upon release, and the comparisons to A Quiet Place made me excited to experience a film with a similarly original premise. Sadly, however, this is a trope-filled horror film that neither excites nor scares. I think Netflix should be very happy they are a streaming service and not a traditional studio, because this film would have undoubtedly gone unnoticed in theaters and been quickly forgotten, just like the other mediocre, off-season horror schlock that will be coming out in theaters this month.