Thursday, July 18, 2019

Bird Box: Just a whole lot of chirping going on

Theatrical poster of Bird Box (Photo grab from Netflix)

RELEASED last December, Netflix's Bird Box became an instant hit thanks in no small part to viral marketing gimmicks. Even now, people in social media continue to spread memes about keeping your eyes closed and walking around blindfolded to stay alive when outdoors. All this gives the impression that this latest Sandra Bullock starrer is a horror flick people can't afford to miss.

But is it, really? Does Bird Box live up to all this hype?

No, my friends, it does not.

To explain my answer, I'll have to spoil the movie for you. I know for a fact that you're going to watch it anyway out of sheer curiosity or peer pressure, so it'd be best if you go watch it first. It's not terribly bad. Otherwise, if you've already seen this flick or you haven't but wouldn't mind at all if I spoiled it, then by all means, read on.

First of all, Bird Box is most definitely not a horror movie even though it's been insinuated far and wide to be one. A horror movie done right throws images and sounds at you to make you recoil in fear and perhaps even scream in shock and terror, just when you least expect it or after building up sufficient tension and trepidation deep inside of you. Movies like The Exorcist, The Conjuring, and Shutter come to mind. Heck, even Spider-Man became startlingly scary at times in the hands of veteran horror director Sam Raimi.

Bird Box, on the other hand, does no such thing to the viewer – we see people killing themselves and sometimes each other in gruesome ways after catching a glimpse of the entity, but all this is presented to us matter-of-factly. Very matter-of-factly. And no amount of hissing, shadows, and gusts of wind eerily blowing up leaves can make up for this shortcoming. To be more precise, Bird Box is a post-apocalyptic drama akin to The Book of Eli or I Am Legend.

Speaking of I Am Legend, I'm pretty sure that those of you who've already seen Bird Box can't help but feel that the whole setup feels oddly familiar. Well it is – and it's no coincidence either. Bird Box is based on a novel by Josh Malerman (which I haven't read, so I'll just stick to reviewing the film adaptation). Malerman wrote the book back in the late 2000s, when post-apocalyptic thrillers like M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening and Cormac McCarthy's The Road were all the rage. Perhaps it wouldn't be a bit of a stretch to say that Malerman's writing was heavily influenced by those two films as well as other sources.

As I sat through Bird Box, I couldn't help but notice traces of The Ring (if you see the entity, you die), Final Destination (the survivors are killed one by one in very unpleasant ways), the TV series Lost (bizarre circumstances force a motley group of strangers to band together to survive), even the video game The Last of Us (a very capable adult accompanies a child across the country to what is presumably safe haven) and perhaps Apocalypse Now too (“Never get out of the boat”). Those who've been keeping their finger on the pop culture pulse might come to the conclusion that Bird Box is a movie that tries to be so many things all at once.

We all know Sandra Bullock from her previous film roles as the tough and gutsy chick who kicks ass and takes names, but here she plays the painter Malorie. “Cool,” I said to myself, “they're making her play against type for a change by casting her as an artsy lady.” I was wrong. A couple scenes later and we find her deftly handling a shotgun and other firearms, and she's quite the rough and rugged survivalist for a woman who obsesses over painting pretty pictures all day long. If Sandra Bullock had to revert to type yet again, perhaps it would have been better had her character been rewritten as a military officer or police detective on maternity leave.

Finally, the way Bird Box makes use of its cast leaves a lot to be desired. BD Wong was terribly underused: he says a few lines and then dies early on. John Malkovich did not have much to work with as the old curmudgeon everyone in the house hates, but as always he shines anyway, especially when he engages in some verbal sparring with Sandra Bullock's Malorie. And if it wasn't for the screen time he gets to share with Bullock, Trevante Rhodes's Tom would have been easily forgotten.

I'm not saying that Bird Box is a bad film. It's an okay watch, and therein lies the problem. It's been hyped to make people think that it's more than what it actually is, namely a drama with supernatural elements – or to be more frank, Sandra Bullock's comeback vehicle. A better horror-thriller with a strong female lead and a very pleasant twist in the end would be Nicole Kidman's The Others. If you're looking for something more macabre, you might want to check out Bone Tomahawk.


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