Netflix has not allowed the souring of its deal with Disney to stop it from going out into the world and discovering new talent to fill its streaming bandwidth. Today’s review talks about a new movie based on a novel called “Bird Box.”
Sensory Horror is Back
‘Sensory horror’ – a term I coined for monsters which can neither be seen or sensed by Humans OR that the creatures rely on their own superhuman senses to hunt Humans – with deadly consequences are not new.
Invisible monsters were a staple in the science fiction and horror genre, but our love of special effects has made them less relevant in recent years.
The Darkest Hour (2011) was the most recent film which featured monsters which were invisible to the naked eye and could only be revealed by environmental effects. Though the film is considered “B movie” fare, I liked it just the same. I dig the plucky Human stories fighting back against an irresistible alien force, even though I know we would be doomed in reality.
Netflix’s Bird Box, however, shares more in common with “The Happening” by M. Night Shyamalan released in 2008. The underlying premise was also the same; after the exposure to the invisible threat, Humans would begin randomly taking their own lives or the lives of others.
Bird Box is based on an award-winning story by writer/musician Josh Malerman, and expands our realm of invisible monsters with creatures we never see but are able to attack and rewrite the Human mind in a matter of seconds after exposure to the apparently invisible (to the movie viewer) threat.
But I’ve Seen This Movie Before
The film opens with the standard fare of Oscar-winner, Sandra Bullock (an actress I have little personal affinity for, but she is effective in this role) as a woman who is pregnant and having a tough time connecting with the idea she is pregnant and due to give birth sooner than she would like. Bullock is a talented artist who hides from the world for months at a time and is thus unaware of a phenomenon which began in Russia but is quickly sweeping the planet.
Like most pandemic films, the protagonists watch the news broadcast which tells them nothing and thus, they ignore it as news of another place, likely to not be news by dusk of the same day. Bullock as Malorie is visited by her sister, Jessica, portrayed by Golden Globe winner, Sarah Paulson, who lives life to the fullest, outgoing, fun-loving and supportive of her sister.
This unlikely pair are soon thrust into the usual driving scene panic such movies feel compelled to create where we see Humans at their worst, screaming and running, dying badly, and looking like a species barely worthy of the words: Intelligent life.
At this point in the movie, you know something’s wrong, but you aren’t sure what. The movie changes pace and becomes an indoor psychological drama as unlikely people are thrust together hiding from something they can’t see, scarcely believe in and have no information about.
Yes, you guessed it. Lots of meaningless dying takes place. Okay, there is a bit of meaning. We learn about how the creatures move, how they appear in the environment and as the movie progresses, we are switched back and forth from the past to the present, where Malorie has given instruction to two young children about five or six to inform them they were going on a journey to someplace safe from whatever it is that’s killing them.
The creatures never get a name, but we do get a few images drawn by an insane man and anyone familiar with Lovecraftian lore might recognize one or two of the monsters from the artistic renderings.
What I Liked About Bird Box
It explained nothing. It apologized for nothing. It killed everyone indiscriminately and in some cases, quite horribly. Yet, there is a distance being created in the deaths of the characters, one I can’t help but suspect is part of how Malorie, who is the disaffected protagonist, presents as her point of view.
John Malkovich, plays the irascible Douglas, a drunkard, bullying realist who has the only true sense of what is happening and his fatalism is infectious. He is one of the few characters who is able to bring any semblance of reality to this story.
Vivien Lyra Blair as Girl and Julian Edwards as Boy (the children of the two pregnant women in this film) stand out because they rarely get to speak and thus must deliver their their few lines with intensity and emotional resonance. Both manage this feat with professional aplomb. Being cute as buttons doesn’t hurt either.
Not All Of It Worked
It was so predictable. That isn’t a bad thing, but I think once you have seen enough of these kinds of movies, you can’t help but be able to predict, how it moves, what it does and how it ends. The movie manages to keep enough tension, especially when Malorie, Boy and Girl are trying to make it to a place of refuge down river. I felt that the movie included a lot of star power but didn’t have enough for them to do in order to exploit their acting range.
I gave the movie a 7 out of 10 because while it manages to keep my interest, it was unable to expand to any new ground beyond the hint of Lovecraftian madness due to the exposure of the creatures. It shocks in all the right places, it makes all the right moves, but it feels too much like pandemic/horror movies before it such as The Mist, World War Z, The Happening, and another personal favorite, The Crazies.
Room for Improvement
It’s not a bad movie. It lasts two hours and four minutes, which feels a bit long. If you’re a genre movie buff, you have the feeling you’ve seen it before, except maybe this one was a little bit better (or a bit worse).
If you haven’t seen any of those movies I mentioned, you might actually enjoy this one a little more than I did, but only because you haven’t seen anything else.
If there was anything I would have added, it might have been nice to understand what was actually happening. Yes, I mentioned the movie is good because it doesn’t explain anything but I’m one of those people who wants to know more. I guess I better go and read the book. Maybe I can get some closure there.
Bird Box also features: Trevante Rhodes as Tom, Jacki Weaver as Cheryl, Rosa Salazar as Lucy, Danielle Macdonald as Olympia, Lil Rel Howery as Charlie, Tom Hollander as Gary, Machine Gun Kelly as Felix, BD Wong as Greg, Pruitt Taylor Vince as Rick and Parminder Nagra as Dr. Lapham.
Production companies were: Bluegrass Films, Chris Morgan Productions and Universal Pictures.