Netflix's 'Bird Box' Is Like 'The Happening' but Slightly Less Awful
Netflix's Bird Box is a 2018 thriller film based on a post-apocalyptic novel by Josh Malerman who feared his story was too similar to movies like The Happening or I Am Legend or just about any other post-apocalyptic film.
As a writer myself, I know that feeling all too well, writing something and then realizing it's already been done and then hoping no one thinks you just copied. Oh yeah. That's a crummy feeling. But when looking at this, I couldn't help but think of The Happening, a movie which I actually hated because I thought the story was stupid and all the actors were bad.
Bird Box is, sadly, only slightly better.
The story begins in medias res with Sandra Bullock's character, Malorie, lecturing two children about how to survive the post-apocalyptic world. This is a carrot-on-a-string storytelling method that sets the audience up with a bunch of questions they want answered, inciting them to continue watching the film (Such as "Why the **** are these people stumbling around with blindfolds?").
I feel a little conflicted about the in medias res method. I would prefer it if stories began at the beginning -- not the middle -- because if a story is good, I don't need a damn carrot to keep me interested. Also, jumping forward and back in time is annoying and confusing when not done well.
After the intro, we are then taken back in time, to the real beginning of the story, where Malorie is revealed to be a painter who lives alone, doesn't like people, doesn't like going outside, and is pregnant after a one night stand.
Malorie comes off as being very sad about the situation, and it is heavily implied that she was led on when she says she thought her love interest was more than a roommate -- meaning he pretended to want more just to get sex.
Malorie and her sister (Sarah Paulson) have a brief conversation about loneliness, which is an ironic bit of dialogue considering the end of the world is about to happen and Malorie just might wind up in complete isolation.
A few minutes later, and it's apparent that some kind of disease is going around where people go suicidal and kill themselves. Anyone who looks directly at the suicide becomes infected and kills themselves as well (Yeah. Just as dumb as The Happening).
Malorie barely escapes a riot in the hospital when a woman tries bashing her face through a window, only to watch her sister commit suicide by stepping in front of a moving vehicle.
Malorie makes it all the way to the house of a kind man named Greg (B.D. Wong) who has allowed people to take refuge in his home. She is helped along by a man named Tom (Trevante Rhodes) who is also fleeing the chaos. She barely makes it in the door as a woman (Rebecca Pidgeon) who attempts to help her winds up committing suicide.
Malorie then meets a bunch of refugees hiding out in Greg's house. Prominent among them are Tom, who quickly develops a crush on Malorie, and Douglas (John Malkovich), who hates Malorie for inadvertently causing the death of his wife, Lydia.
The characters quickly realize they are going to run out of food, so Greg tries to use his surveillance cameras to see the streets outside without risking infection. He becomes infected and is the first character in the house to die (and of course he is).
The group decides to risk driving to the super market -- because such a mundane task is always deadly in a post-apocalyptic world -- and force Charlie (Lil Ray Howery), a nerdy grocer who works there, to come along.
Charlie is a nervous, fidgety guy who loves whacky conspiracy theories, believes Earth is being judged by some unseen higher power, and all he wants to do is write his novel.
I wasn't the least bit surprised when he was killed off at the grocery store. I was only surprised that he didn't die before Greg, since black people are usually the first to go.
I know. I know. You're probably screaming that Tom lived for quite a while and was portrayed as competent and badass to boot. But it's always, always a trend in horror films that if there is more than one black person, one of them is going to die very soon.
Don't worry. It's not as a deep as I'm making it out to be. My pleasure is analyzing films for what they are. I am not up in arms about Charlie's death, I assure you.
Just tellin' it like it is.
One key plot point is that birds can sense the infection in people (most of the time). So when Malorie finds some birds at the grocery store and decides to keep them, they wind up being a significant survival tool.
Back at the house, Malorie and Douglas bond over the fact that Douglas is a lot like her asshole father.
While Malorie and Douglas are chatting, Lucy (Rosa Salazar) and Felix (Colson Baker) steal the car from the garage, having apparently grown close after a one night stand (which makes absolutely no sense, but whatever).
What was the reason for this? The film might have been interesting had it bothered to elaborate on these two characters. If anything, it just makes the theft of the car look like an obvious attempt to raise tension by stranding the other characters. Raising tension in a story should be done so well that I don't even have to ask questions like this.
Let me also pause here to say how grateful I am that Lucy and Felix's very brief sex scene was not explicit. I can't even begin to say how tired I am of being forced to watch porn and the objectification of women in every single film, television show, commercial, advertisement . . . .
After the introduction of Olympia, the other pregnant survivor (Danielle Macdonald), it becomes apparent to the audience that the little blonde girl traveling with Malorie is Olympia's child, while the little boy belongs to Malorie. Again, it's a carrot, making you question what happened to the other survivors in Greg's house and why Malorie is now alone with the children.
Another flash forward scene shows what happens when you drift around wearing blindfolds: Malorie's boat hits an obstruction and tips over. They lose the blankets and supplies, forcing her to stop at an old hospital (or something).
As Malorie is gathering supplies, she is chased from the hospital by an invisible force that whispers and swoops through the air (or something).
What the f*** is going on here? Don't worry because the movie never tells you!
Tom tells Malorie a story of his time deployed in Iraq, a scene which serves to explain why he is so calm and levelheaded during a time of chaos.
The next scene then confirms that the little blonde girl is Olympia's daughter.
That night, Olympia let's a desperate man into the house. The man introduces himself as Gary (Tom Hollander) and describes some people who chased him without blindfolds. He says they didn't need the blindfolds, as if they weren't infected by the disease.
Once Gary finishes his story, Olympia is berated by Douglas, who grabs the shotgun and announces that Gary has to get out and anyone who disagrees has to go with him. As he is in the middle of his rant, Cheryl (Jacki Weaver) comes up behind and knocks him out with a bottle. He is then dragged off to the garage by Tom, where he is left alone.
Back in the house, Olympia miserably berates herself and tells Malorie that she let Gary in because she remembered what it was like to be that alone and scared. She predicts her own death, saying she's not a strong person like Malorie and that her loved ones did everything for her. She begs Malorie to please take care of her baby, and Malorie promises.
There's a scene earlier in the film where Douglas tells Malorie that he's always right. As it turns out, he always is. He was right about Lydia's death. He was right about Charlie's death. And he was right about Gary. If he weren't such an insufferable asshole, maybe everyone else would have listened to him.
While Malorie and Olympia are upstairs going into labor, Douglas is forced to watch helplessly through the garage door window as Gary goes on a rampage, destroying everything he can. First, he puts the birds in the freezer. Then he hits Tom over the head. Then he opens the garage door on Douglas, exposing him to the toxic outdoors.
As the camera zooms in on his eyes, it becomes apparent that Gary is, in fact, one of the "psychos without blindfolds" that he described in his story.
Gary then goes upstairs and marvels at the new born babies -- then rips the newspaper off the windows, forcing everyone to look outside.
Malorie manages to resist looking, but Olympia is determined to throw herself out the window. After handing her baby to Malorie, she jumps to her death.
Meanwhile, Gary grabs Cheryl by the face and forces her to look into the sunlight. Now inffected, Cheryl stabs herself with scissors.
Douglas comes in with his shotgun and manages to shoot Gary in the arm before being tackled over the banister and stabbed by Gary with the same scissors Cheryl just used.
Tom wakes up just in time to shoot Gary, killing him. Now Malorie,Tom, and the two children are all that's left. The audience now has to wonder: what happened to Tom?
The fact that this story needs so many carrots is proof in and of itself that it's awful. The characters should be interesting enough that I care about watching to the end to see what happens to them. Instead, I finished the entire film out of mild curiosity, to see the answers to these questions that kept being raised. Needless to say, my curiosity was not satisfied. The carrots led me no where.
Five years later, and Malorie and Tom are living together and raising the two children (best believe I rolled my eyes through the inevitable sex scene, but at least it wasn't full of nudity). When Tom finally contacts a settlement down the river, it becomes apparent why Malorie is heading downriver with the children in the juxtaposed scenes.
Malorie is initially angry with Tom for suggesting that they go to the settlement. She doesn't want to take the risk. She's given up hope. She is so devoid of hope that she didn't even bother naming the children, who she calls Boy and Girl.
The scene where Malorie argues with Tom is very reminiscent of I Am Legend and the scene at the end of the movie where Neville and Anna have a screaming match about finding a new settlement or giving up hope. Ironically, the argument is backwards in Will Smith's film: the man wants to give up hope and the woman wants to find a settlement.
The scenes serve to show that Malorie isn't this brave, strong, powerful being that Olympia made her out to be -- she's just human. She's definitely a survivor, but she is flawed and can make mistakes like anyone else.
While Malorie insists on giving up and just surviving, Tom insists on holding on to hope and teaching the children to dream of a better world, one where they can play in the sunlight, meet other children, and live real lives.
One morning they arrive at an abandoned house and rejoice over some strawberry Pop-Tarts they find there. Then they hear some people pull up in cars. The strangers are infected "psychos" like Gary, who want to infect everyone they can.
Tom insists on distracting the strangers while Malorie runs with the kids. He manages to shoot two with his blindfold on (holy shit!), then is forced to take his blindfold off after he himself is shot, and manages to execute all of them.
What a BAMF.
Unfortunately, Tom is infected when he removes his blindfold. He looks to his left and sees something off camera that changes his eyes. Then he shoots himself.
Some feet away, Malorie freezes when she hears the gunshot.
With Tom's death, it now becomes apparent why Malorie insists on going downriver. Tom encouraged her to be brave and have hope, and after he sacrificed himself for her, it would only be fitting that she would try to live up to his example.
Also, she knows it'll be harder to protect those kids on her own now. Reaching that settlement is her only chance.
So she takes the risk and takes the children downriver. What follows is a completely ridiculous scene. They have to pass through the rapids, which requires that one of them takes off their blindfold. Malorie can't do it because she's paddling, so it falls to one of the children to be her eyes and tell her where to steer them. In other words, one of the children must sacrifice their life for everyone else.
After thinking of her promises to Olympia and Tom, Malorie can't bring herself to make a decision. Instead, she decides to pass through the rapids while blindfolded, risking all their lives instead of some of their lives.
This was so completely, utterly stupid. Why should everyone die just because she couldn't make a hard decision? This story had the chance to be emotional and tragic and instead, it's just silly. I guess I'm taking the film too seriously. I mean . . . the entire premise is that people stumble around blindfolded and bumping off walls for two hours. It ain't that deep. But damn.
And of course, passing through the rapids while wearing a f******* blindfold upturns the boat, dumping them all in the water. Luckily, they all survived, despite the protagonist's foolishness.
They pass through the forest, and Malorie trips on a tree root and falls down a hill (yes, it's as funny as it sounds), becoming separated from the two children. The unseen entities whisper and try to entice the children into removing their blindfolds, and they almost do.
Malorie manages to fumble her way to the boy before he is taken, but she has to talk the girl into coming back to her, as the girl is still angry with her for being so hard and cold. The scene is supposed to be touching and heartwarming or whatever. It's really just boring. By this point, I found myself yawning and wondering when the film would be over.
The invisible entities become desperate. They take on the voices of Malorie's dead loved ones and chase her and the children all the way to the settlement.
Ironically, the settlement turns out to be inside a school for the blind and is run by that stuttering guy from the film Monster. Because most of the people in the settlement are blind, they are immune to the entities. Malorie reunites with Dr. Lapham (Perminder Nagra) and gets to live happily ever after with her children, who she finally names Tom and Olympia. The End.
We never learn what the entities are, the characters weren't all that interesting, a lot of plot points were stupid, the dialogue wasn't great, the acting was mediocre, but hey . . .
Still better than The Happening.
And they finally let those birds out that f****** box.
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