So yeah, you know how this review is going to go down based on the title. No major reveal here, so it’s kind of like the movie itself! I actually hadn’t heard of this movie until a few weeks ago, and the trailer and accompanying article didn’t exactly set me on fire. It seemed too much like A Quiet Place for my liking, and that was a movie I mostly disliked. Now most places you will read about it are indeed referring to it as “A Quiet Place … for eyes!”. Not only didn’t I like Birdbox, I hated it!
From what I’ve since learned, the movie is based on the 2014 novel of the same name by Josh Malerman, so it predates the release of A Quiet Place by about three – four years. Not that this really matters – Hollywood frequently releases movies with similar plots within a year of one another. It’s hard to know if A Quiet Place’s story development began as a direct nod to Malerman’s novel, but the similarities are pretty striking. A pregnant protagonist living through a terrifying apocalyptic event, moving to a remote location to try to avoid the threat, huge inconsistencies in plot … seemingly intelligent people doing grossly stupid things. Almost a carbon copy, in other words!
The story is this: a mysterious plague of suicides has broken out (much like the M. Night Shyamalan movie The Happening) across Eastern Europe and soon spreads west. Sandra Bullock plays Malorie Hayes, pregnant and proudly single, who falls in with a group of survivors following the spread of the phenomenon stateside. Five years later, after society has broken down, she and two children, one of them hers, must reach a colony which claims to have established a safe space. There’s not much more to the story, and nothing that you haven’t really encountered before if you watch any kind of post-apocalyptic movie. The goal seems to be the same: the safe colony is broadcasting at large, hoping that other survivors will be drawn to them. It’s a trope that exists to be subverted, but very few people actually do that. The Walking Dead did with the Terminus storyline, but failed to develop it into a full season story. No, this trope is destined to be around for a while. You can find it in The Walking Dead, the awful Will Smith adaptation of I Am Legend and others.
This movie is bad for a whole host of reasons – the best way to watch it would be with a scorecard, so you can keep track of the lazy and stupid plot points, so this is how I’m going to review the movie.
1/ The Apocalypse Doesn’t Matter If It Happens Somewhere Else. This is in the very early part of the movie. Despite the news telling the public that literally tens of thousands of people are committing suicide due to an unexplained phenomenon, Malorie and her sister Jessica talk as if nothing of the kind was happening. They seem utterly unconcerned that this is happening, or that it could spread.
2/ Your Loved Ones Die In Front Of You, But You Get Over It Quickly. It doesn’t take time for the phenomenon to hit the US (as in same day) and Jessica falls victim to it quickly. By this time chaos has spread into the streets, but when Jessica walks in front of a speeding semi, Malorie’s reaction to the death is pretty much how she’d react to seeing this happen to anyone. There’s no sense of loss or bewilderment on her part, and Jessica is barely even mentioned after that. Speaking of bewilderment, this was my reaction to the complete and utter lack of reaction of John Malkovich’s character upon watching his own wife get into the front seat of a burning car – which is an eerily effective death scene! He actually watches it happen is it was something on TV. This could actually be a character trait, but it goes unexplored. Turns out, Malkovich’s character is just a dick, not an unfeeling psychopath.
3/ Small World, Huh? Despite 5 years passing, and a distance of who knows how many miles, one of the people in the safe-space colony just happens to be Malorie’s obstetrician from the hospital visit at the start of the movie.
4/ We Broke Our Own Rules For The Sake Of The Story. As it is, the conceit of the movie is that if you look upon these … whatever-they-ares it forces you to commit suicide. Ok, I can buy it. But then there’s an addendum that says if you’re already crazy, it turns you into some kind of cultist. This is where it lost me. And at the end, all rules have been abandoned: the safe space is not completely indoors, in fact, the actual final scene takes place outdoors, and it’s suddenly okay to walk around without a blindfold, despite the threat still as strong as it ever was.
5/ No Children Or Animals Were Harmed During The Course Of This Story. During a trip down rapids that have been established as so incredibly dangerous that only a couple of people have survived them, not only do the blindfolded trio of Malorie and the two children survive relatively easily, but the Bird Box of the title, which is literally a cardboard box that contains three parakeets they use as a Canary-In-A-Coalmine early warning system, survive completely unscathed and bone dry. In all fairness, the rapids were spectacularly tame. So what was all the fuss about? Horror movies are supposed to be bleak, and sometimes that requires making story choices that reflect the genre – no such choices were made here.
6/ Let’s Go Live In The Country. The cities are terrible places for the end of the world, so let’s head to the country and live in peace and quiet. I mean, it probably works when you’re dealing with zombies and vampires, but in Bird Box they establish that you’re okay if you don’t look, and that a simple blindfold is all that’s needed. Then why not just stay where you are? Everything you need is in the city, and your neighboughood is a pretty familiar, thus safe, place to stay. Move out to the country where being blind would dramatically reduce your rate of survival? No thanks; if I’m completely safe just by wearing a blindfold, I’ll stay put.
These are the 6 worst things I can remember from the story and they’re all bad enough, but in addition to these, there were plot points that just bugged the hell out of me. The most obvious was the excursion to the store to find provisions. The Mist already nailed that subplot, and if you’re going to copy that, you need to bring something else to the table. Bird Box’s version was as bad as what you’d see on network TV. Then there was the very detail that defined the movie: if you see the things, bad stuff will happen to you – yet those who survive are not completely blind – it’s established through POV camerawork that blindfolds can be thin enough to make out light and shade – so what’s the scoop here? What degree of blindness ensures safety? It’s never even mentioned.
And what exactly is going on here, I had to wonder. Not only do you not see – ever – what’s going on, it’s never actually established in the beginning of the movie that this is a phenomenon that includes creatures of any kind, yet the word “creatures” is used all the time. All that’s ever seen is a light breeze blowing things around whenever something is close by. And if you can wear a blindfold, you’re pretty safe anyway, especially if you don’t even need them indoors! Though if you want to see what they would have looked like, follow this link!
I am not one of those people who can watch a shitty movie like this and write it off as being enjoyable “for what it is”. A shitty movie is a shitty movie, and that’s the be all and end all for me. I can’t watch a multimillion-dollar production like this and not ask how a script that bad, by Eric Heisserer, could get filmed. I tweeted that it’s a disgraceful and embarrassing script, which it is. The last movie I watched with a script this awful was Cell, the movie adapted from the Stephen King book of the same name. If the movie has any saving grace to me it’s only in the extremely mild Lovecraftian theme of the existence of beings that are so incomprehensible to our human minds that even looking upon them can drive us insane. Bird Box would have worked pretty well if the story had gone in that direction, instead of a weak tale of post-apocalyptic survival, and had a writer with more talent than Heisserer to tell it. The only hint to this can be found in some pretty terrific charcoal drawings of creatures laid out on a coffee table in the house where the survivors are holed up, but these drawings are never once looked at or commented on by anyone in the movie, making it seem as if they’re just visual easter eggs for the audience.
My rating reflects exactly how I felt about this movie. Did it look good? Yes, the photography is nice, but neither it nor the lighting is interesting whatsoever, and as bland as another post-apocalyptic movie, Z For Zachariah. I tend to think that the breakdown of the world should look like it, and this movie never does. Similarly the direction by Susanne Bier is strictly by the numbers, with characters that are poorly written, unable to be prodded into life by either her or her actors. This movie, in other words, is a real piece of garbage.
© Andrew Hope, 2019
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