Few horror movies manage to truly impress in this day and age, much less those that attempt to take on the ‘scary-monster’ narrative. It’s the reason why I prefer the more psychological tales of terror that deal with more distressing, unstable mental themes, and yet, still manage to (somewhat) base themselves in reality. Think films like An Invitation or Gerald’s Game. These subject matters, at least, have the slight possibility of actually manifesting in the real world. It’s what makes them more terrifying.
But when you’ve seen most iterations of a bloodied woman in white, leather-faced demons in FX contacts or sinister devil-children that want to strangle you in your sleep… their succeeding forms sadly become less frightening each time. Cue the ‘jump scare’ music to compensate.
Fortunately, not all hope is lost; these past few years have brought us a handful of excellent ‘monster horror’ films that have truly managed to scare – Hereditary, A Quiet Place, It Follows and the 2017 remake of It are some notable ones that come to mind.
And for this review, I’m happy to throw another one into the mix of good, effective horror films: the post-apocalyptic Bird Box.
(This is a ‘spoiler-free’ review, but I will be discussing the premise – so if that’s a bother, time to click out! 😊)
My first time hearing about this film was through its increasingly viral status on the internet, where a friend pointed out that it “was like A Quiet Place, except they focus on sight instead of sound.” I had the immediate feeling that this was going to be some sort of B-grade rip-off, for sure.
And sure enough, it did borrow a few familiar themes from A Quiet Place. The premise follows Sandra Bullock with two children as she struggles to survive in a world invaded by supernatural entities that induce acts of suicide when stared upon with bare eyes. The term ‘bird box’ refers to the concept of birds going crazy when these creatures are near; thus, keeping a cage (or box) of birds with you can help you sense their presence.
As far as being a B-grade rip-off goes, this movie proved me wrong within the first 10 minutes. While the similar ideas are there (though, to be fair, it was based off a novel from 2014 – so I guess it’s John Krasinski who’s borrowing inspiration?), the direction, storyline, characters, and plot development couldn’t be any different, and stand on their own as a unique, compelling narrative.
With all the top-billing she’s gotten, Sandra Bullock does indeed carry this film with her fantastic acting, playing the resilient, restless Malorie – our leading protagonist fighting for survival while society devolves into chaos. In moments most intense, you can actually feel a vicarious sense of panic as she battles against various adversaries (both human and the supernatural), while depicting genuine emotions of desperation and terror.
John Malkovich also makes a pleasant appearance as Douglas, the no-nonsense ‘asshole’ who’s out to do whatever he can to stay alive. Where other characters get more emotional, letting irrational sentiments get the better of them, Douglas contrasts with a cold-blooded, trust-no-outsider mentality on survival – a role he plays effectively.
The child actor roles weren’t all that heavy, so I can’t say too much on our two little leads; but they were cute, did well with what they were given, and as far as their acting went, it didn’t come off at all distracting.
None of the rest of the supporting cast really stood out much, apart from Tom Hollander, who delivers one of the film’s most memorable scenes.
Bird Box grabs your attention instantly with an opening scene of Malorie prepping for a perilous river journey, instructing her two children to keep their blindfolds on, or else they’ll die.
Off the bat, the film reels you in with its mysterious, dystopian lore, leaving you with the nagging curiosity of what’s out there and why they need to ‘blind’ themselves. It’s an intriguing premise that kicks things off immediately, and delivers a fast-paced plotline that weaves in and out of the past and present time. ‘Slow’ moments were present, but were rare; in general, the movie held onto its suspenseful atmosphere and knew when to amp up the tension.
Like I said, this film lands a solid place in the category of well-made ‘monster movies’, with its antagonists that play on the horror principle of ‘less is more’.
The thrill of confronting a supernatural movie villain is often abolished the moment you see them in their entirety, likely falling short of the far-ghastlier images you’ve painted in your mind. Fortunately, Bird Box’s monsters leave more than enough room for your imagination to roam wild, while leaving little inklings of what they might actually look like.
The whole concept of these beings provoking acts of suicide strikes a familiar chord, amongst many a movie critic, to that of Shyamalan’s The Happening – which, for any movie, isn’t a great comparison. The suicidal acts delivered in The Happening were so shoddily done that they turned into scenes more laughable than traumatic. Luckily, Bird Box pulled most of these off in a genuinely more eerie fashion, with spectacles that induce shock rather than cringe.
The ‘monsters’ also create a greater atmosphere of fear, compared to Shyamalan’s killer plants. (Then again, most monsters in both great and ‘meh’ horror films are scarier than Shyamalan’s killer plants.)
There’s only one nagging issue I’d like to point out with this film, and its that the ‘rules’ for its lore seem a little confusing. You’ll get what I mean once you check out the film yourself; but it seems that these creatures have varying effects on their victims that go unexplained. It’s a plot hole I can forgive with all the chilling scenes that make up for it, but it’s a plot hole nonetheless.
All in all, I’d give Bird Box a good 4 out of 5 stars for the sheer entertainment it provides and its captivating premise.
It’s no A Quiet Place, but it’s still genuinely suspenseful and well-acted – much to Bullock and Malkovich’s credit. If you’re looking to have a night-in with your Netflix account one of these weekends, I’d recommend giving this a shot.
(All photos courtesy of Netflix.)