In the first of a new series, we look back on Bird Box, which took America by surprise when Netflix dropped it onto its streaming network in December 2012. I want to be clear, from the start, that I actually do love Bird Box. For all its flaws and painfully bad moments, it was still a movie I really enjoyed. However, since this is a series about why the movie was bad, let’s get into the details of what made it a terribly put together film.
The Plot Beats
If you were to take a paint by numbers horror outline and filled it out, you would get Bird Box. Oh, sure, there are some interesting twists to the film. The core premise of the film is that one woman has to guide two children to safety in the post-apocalypse. At he heart of that apocalypse is a monster (or monsters) that some people see but others don’t. When you do see them, it . . . make you suicidal? Aggressive? It makes something bad happen to you. What, exactly, is unclear, but let’s hold that point off and discuss it in a little bit. For now, it’s okay to say that, in most cases, a person who sees these monster feels an impulse to commit suicide, and sometimes in gruesome ways.
But outside of that interesting premise, there’s not a lot here you wouldn’t see on, say, The Walking Dead. Group of survivors band together in a safe house? Check. Tensions generated by an ordery, old but tough-as-nails man? Check. The survival of the group threatened by welcoming in a new survivor who will most definitely turn on them? Check. There’s a lot here we’ve seen before. As a result, a lot of the middle of the movie’s second act is routine. You know the group won’t survive, you know the new survivor’s going to turn on them, and you know it’s going to whittle the cast down to just a handful. This isn’t helped by the narrative framing. All this is plot written through flashbacks, at a time when the heroine, Malorie, is already one her own with just two children in tow.
Most fans of the Walking Dead will say that the most boring parts of the show are when the team’s just spinning its wheels in a house or fortified location. With few ideas of how to win against the threat they face, the heroes just hope to survive. That’s the entire middle arc of Bird Box, with Malorie and her friends sitting in a home and trying to find ways to get supplies. It’s something we’ve seen before in too many horror films.
However, when it comes to boring scenarios, that’s not the end of it. Toward the end of the film, Malorie starts to hear the voice of her dead lover calling out to her. The young girl she’s accompanying starts hearing Malorie’s voice telling her to take off her blindfold. These are obvious attempts by the monster(s) to get them to expose their eyesight.
The audience knows from the start how this is going to play out. Malorie’s going to find some way to win out, she’s going to try and convince the little girl to ignore fake Malorie, and the two are going to bond as a result of them finally bonding and surviving together. You know from the moment these scenarios start that there’ s no way either one of them is going to open their eyes to the monster(s). You also know there’s no way Malorie’s going to get lied into believing her dead lover has somehow come back to life and is just trying to get her to find him. These are key scenarios in the film and yet they’re boring and trite.
The Monster(s) and the Corrupted
The biggest problem in the film is the monster itself and the people it corrupts. Let’s review. It’s really unclear what the monster(s?) in the film are capable of. THe initial threat is terrifying enough. If you see it, you will die. You will find some way of killing yourself. Whether that means jumping from a window or stepping in front of a truck, you’re going to die. That sets up the entire central premise of Malorie and her kids having to keep their eyes wrapped up.
But . . . then you find survivors who have seen the monster but don’t kill themselves. They just . . . wander around, looking for people who haven’t seen the monster(s) and either killing them or exposing their eyes. So, really, why is the monster killing anyone? If the explanation of the story is to be believed, then the monster is some kind of vengeance that has judged mankind unworthy of survival.
Fair enough, but then why keep some people alive? These people who see the monster and live (let’s call them Corrupted), they spend every day just hunting uncorrupted people down? I have to imagine that’s a pretty limited set of circumstances. The film make it pretty clear that in the decently large city Malorie lives in, almost everyone is dead. So the Corrupted just spend weeks and weeks doing nothing but waiting to stumble upon uncorrupted survivors? I guess.
It just feels like the writer didn’t know how to make the monsters a threat anymore, so they came up with this idea of the Corrupted. And the Corrupted are probably the worst part of the film. They’re not nearly as terrifying as the monster itself. They’re just like any other grim post-apocalypse group you’ve ever seen in Mad Max or The Walking Dead, except nowhere near as interesting.
Mad Max fought people who drove in mobile war vehicles while some guy played guitar on the front hood while fire ejected from his guitar head. Rick Grimes and his band of zombie survivors battled terrifying foes like The Governor and Negan, guys who had motivation and personality. There’s no one like that in Bird Box, and consequently, the Corrupted just come off as boring filler. That’s a problem since they’re in at least half the film in one way or another. The reason for the Corrupted existing doesn’t make sense, and even accepting that the monster(s) want to keep around a force of brainwashed bodyguards, the Corrupted are just boring.
So Why Do We Love It?
For all its flaws, Bird Box does enough right that I ended up loving it, even while acknowledging that it is not good. It breaks so many rules of good writing, from its lazy tropes to its boring scenarios and predictable personalities. But it’s also a fascinating movie.
The horror of what those monsters were and what they did and why they did it? All those questions go unanswered, and it’s probably a good move. It leaves them mysterious and terrifying, and lets the viewer speculate about where they exactly come from. Any situation in which a blind Malorie or her friends are trying to struggle to survive is gold. Even just the difficulty of driving a car around town, using GPS to guide them because they need to keep their eyes closed, was intriguing. And the opening moment of the apocalypse, with people killing themselves and a confused Malorie watching as a woman who saves her then proceeds to sit in a burning car until she dies? Fantastic.
Bird Box is a bad movie punctuated by great scenes, and those great scenes carry the film. More than any other reason, that is why we love Bird Box.
If you like this article, remember to like, share it, and consider supporting the blog.
Bonus! Enjoy Undercurrents, the chilling song accompanying the opening moments of the apocalypse.