Sometimes, things just meme themselves…
No, I don’t get why Bird Box became a “thing” on the internet, and therefore became irrevocably warped with regard to honest critical and audience reception. What should have just become an intriguing, Netflix original horror-thriller instead became an online quagmire of “Bird Box is AMAZING”/”Bird Box is GARBAGE” hot takes. I heard reviews ranging across literally the entire spectrum of quality, and way too many harping on similarities to A Quiet Place. So of course I had to investigate for myself…
I’m here to tell you, dear reader of this site, that most of what you’ve probably heard about Bird Box is bullshit.
First off, the elephant in the room: No, this is not a Quiet Place ripoff. The surface similarities are what people are picking up on – themes of the parental imperative to protect your children from a hostile world, and creatures whose lethality revolves around a primary sense. I can’t say whether A Quiet Place influenced in any way the production or distribution of this film, but to call it a ripoff is both unfair and inaccurate. The tone is different, the pacing is different, and ultimately the type of monster is completely unique for reasons I’ll get into shortly.
The story unfolds across two timelines, one present day, about the mother (Sandra Bullock) and two children journeying blindfolded via river raft to a potential sanctuary, and the other about five years earlier detailing how the apocalyptic event came to pass. This second plot is far more interesting and comprises much more run time than the trailers convey, and takes on a more traditional ensemble apocalypse structure than the “trudging blindfolded through the woods” movie that Netflix’s own preview clip is selling. A group of strangers brought together by the sudden, catastrophic appearance of these monsters are holed up in a house trying to figure out how to survive, and two of them are pregnant.
This section is plenty compelling, tense, and occasionally action-packed, but also suffers the most from end-of-the-world tropes. Clashing personality types, perilous supply runs, and mounting paranoia all call to mind The Walking Dead and its ilk. Somehow the legendary John Malkovich got saddled with playing the obligatory “non-compassionate, sarcastic dickhead” role, far beneath his pay grade. And yes, plot logic nitpickers will have plenty of boneheaded decisions to rant and rave about.
The “monsters”, which I place in quotations because they remain unseen (by the audience) for the duration of the film, are in fact a pretty awesome new horror threat. Catching even the slightest glimpse of one triggers some kind of instant psychosis in people that compels them to immediately kill themselves in the most brutal and efficient means possible. I love “world falling to pieces” scenes in zombie and other apocalyptic movies, and Bird Box’s is an all-timer. The more we see of the effects of these creatures, the more Lovecraftian and otherworldly they become. A Quiet Place’s monsters were 100% physical – possibly extraterrestrial or subterranean – but these seem to be from another dimension entirely, more unknowable even than the terrors of The Mist.
The present day storyline of the journey to salvation is where the themes of parental responsibility resolve, and where Sandra Bullock gets to earn her well-deserved acting accolades. There’s not much more to it than the effort of navigating a long, rushing river blindfolded with two children, but the presence of said children increases the stakes tenfold. In the emerging “parental horror” subgenre, Bird Box is a welcome addition. Ignore the memes and just watch the thing.