It’s beautiful. It’s beautiful.
Take off your blindfold.
Netflix’s 2018 Bird Box horror film starred Sandra Bullock and was set in a post-apocalyptic world where unseen creatures ravaged society, inducing people to commit suicide in horrific ways. Released over Christmas, the movie received a fair amount of conflicting fanfare, much to Netflix’s delight.
On the one-hand, Netflix reported that the film had been watched by over 20 million American viewers in its first seven days, and over 40 million worldwide, with the streaming service defining 70% or more as ‘watched’. By Netflix’s own metrics, which were highly dubious to outsiders, Bird Box was its most watched film ever.
Aside from its viewership, the film spawned its own ‘challenge’ whereby fans of the film would blindfold themselves and perform everyday tasks in mimicry of Sandra Bullock’s attempts to avoid looking at the film’s titular antagonists. Needless to say, these exercises didn’t always end up going so well.
Despite its apparent success, the film had plenty of detractors, most of whom criticizing its plot and formulaic construction. Both IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes have the film’s audience scores sitting on 6.6 and 57% respectively, to date. So while the film may have been a ‘viewing success’ Netflix’s hope that it showcased the streaming companies ability to produce its own content on par with Hollywood fell far short in may critics eyes.
Personally, I was not exactly intrigued by the film on its initial release and I didn’t sit down to watch it until the ‘madness’ had ended. When I did, I got to see exactly why the film is criticized by lovers of horror first hand, and largely agree.
For starters, the narrative structure of the film really does a disservice to its plot and characters. From the opening scene we are introduced to Sandra Bullock’s character as she is staunchly guarding two small children on a boat ride along a misty river, somewhere in the American wilderness. Most of the film that follows occurs in flashbacks, detailing the events that led her to be alone in the boat with the two children.
Hopefully you can already see the problem with this narrative. It completely defuses any tension in the film for any character other than Bullock. Knowing she eventually ends up alone means that the trials and tribulations of every other character we meet through the course of the film are utterly moot. From the moment I saw John Malkovic on screen for instance, I felt pretty certain he was going to die which made anything he said or did in the film fairly pointless. This glaring obviousness was felt the whole way through.
Aside from this nearly insurmountable tension-killing narrative, many if not all of the characters in the film acted in really bizarre fashion. One character seemingly can’t help themselves from opening doors and inviting in complete strangers, yet fails to literally open a door at a moment that would have changed the entire film’s ending. Another character goes from being a curmudgeon the entire film to an apparent hero for no reason. You have completely useless characters come and go, with no backstory and no purpose whatsoever. And in a film that trumpets tension and darkness, a comedic relief character feels completely out-of-place and adds nothing to the over-all plot other than to undermine the entire tone. And most frustrating, Sandra Bullock’s character, an avowed loner, takes a liking for a woman she has zero reason to do so with. The list goes on.
Despite its poorly executed plot, the film is shot well and has some good acting. John Malkovich, even with a completely underdeveloped character manages to steal every scene, as always and Bullock who I must admit am not the biggest fan of, plays an excellent stoic mother-to-be. And even though there couldn’t have been a more obvious villain, Tom Hollander’s insane ‘cultist’ was a neat character to watch on screen. In fact, his inclusion was one of the films most interesting aspects, despite being its least developed.
The film clearly draws a lot of inspiration from the work of Lovecraft. With the inclusion of a sect of mad ‘acolytes’ who are not only mad but who wish to spread the unique insanity that comes from witnessing the film creatures is an almost direct ancestor to the crazed cultist’s in Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos. This ‘sect’ of worshipers was a truly excellent element of word-building on the film’s part, one that made the dangers of mankind itself on par with the dangers of the movies monsters – a trope that any zombie film-fan knows all too well. Unfortunately, other than for plot convenience, this sect is largely cosmetic and offers no real commentary on human relationships or society at large.
The one great element the ‘crazy’ acolyte does provide is to enhance the creature mythology of the film by presenting the viewer with drawings of the monsters. While in the final film we don’t see what the Bird Box creatures actually look like, the drawings done by Holland’s character present dark, nightmarish beings. And though they somewhat remove the teeth of uncertainty over what horrific sights could prompt people to self-harm, the film also implies that the form the creatures take is largely in the minds of the viewers – *wink-wink*the audience. Which is somewhat a good thing, since after release, the producers original designs for the monsters were publicized which were not exactly terrifying (Bullock reportedly couldn’t take them seriously during the scenes filmed with them that were originally planned at the film’s ending).
Despite its flaws, the Bird Box creature’s themselves are really intriguing monsters. Beings, alien or otherwise, that induce their enemies to commit suicide are terrifying villain and cross the line between body-horror and psychological horror. In appearance, they may not appear the most intimidating, with the right powers, any DM can make these Boxes a horrifying foe – enjoy!
More Analysis? Lowbrow maybe, but definitely entertaining –
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