It stars Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, and John Malkovich, and was directed by Susanne Bier. Bird Box is based on Josh Malerman’s 2014 novel of the same name and focuses on the character Malorie, played by Sandra Bullock, as she attempts to survive a strange apocalyptic threat. The threat itself is a bit of a mystery, with characters soon discovering that if they look at this invisible creature entity – thing, they will instantly be compelled to kill themselves. Bird Box is a straight-forward, yet confounding film. I’ll start off by saying that I liked the movie, but I’m not entirely sure if it’s actually a good movie. On its surface, it’s a reasonably entertaining post-apocalyptic drama thriller. But, if you dig a little deeper, it’s clear that the film is trying to say something. Except what it’s trying to say isn’t entirely clear.
The premise of this film draws the inevitable comparisons to both A Quiet Place and The Happening, but I really don’t want to talk about it in the context of those films. In fact, I hesitated even mentioning them cause they’ve been referenced ad nauseum by countless others and it honestly feels a little unfair to this film. Bird Box certainly has similarities to these other films, but I think the comparisons to A Quiet Place especially, are being made a little too loosely. Other than the “unknown creatures attack due to one of your five senses” thing, there really are very few things these two movies have in common. That being said, I found Bird Box’s premise to be fantastic and, in most cases, I thought the filmmakers were able to successfully utilize that premise to craft some decently thrilling scenes and moments.
The structure of this film was an interesting choice for this type of story. As the film opens, we’re immediately thrown into the world of Bird Box. We have very little information to go on, so all we can do is tense up and hope that we uncover some answers as we go. But then we get a flashback to five years before. We get a little characterization of Malorie, a hint of a possible central theme of the film, and then we’re once again thrown into an intense situation. But this time, we know as much about what’s going on as the characters do: which is almost nothing.
This film cuts back and forth between the beginning of the apocalypse and the five years later journey which is a unique choice, in my opinion. Since both time periods have something intense occurring, the tension is never entirely lost. But it does inherently reveal the likely fate of many characters which definitely dampens the surprise and impact of their losses a bit. So what’s so confounding about Bird Box, you ask? Very little about the film is explained. The creatures themselves, the nuances of the “rules” of this world, the immunes, the five year time gap between the film’s segments.
Now the lack of explanation’s not necessarily a bad thing cause it heightens the mystery of it all, but it can be a bit frustrating at times. But most frustrating of all are the muddled metaphors. What exactly is this film trying to say? It’s clear that there’s a deeper meaning to this story.
The creatures represent something, the blindfolds represent something, the immunes’ abilities represent something, the birds themselves represent something. But exactly what they represent is never entirely clear. Now I get that sometimes metaphors are intentionally kept vague so that they can be up to the audience’s interpretation. But even if that’s the case, the metaphors here seem to contradict themselves throughout the runtime of the film.
I have a number of theories, but it seems like one of the major themes the film was directly pushing was the idea of isolation from one another. It’s mentioned by Malorie towards the beginning of the movies as she’s describing her painting to her sister and her attitude through much of the flashback’s opening with regard to her pregnancy and her family is one of self-isolation, as she tries to keep herself both physically and emotionally isolated from others. This idea of isolation despite being in a group or around others is further emphasized or explored by the diverse array of people that are trapped in the house (a la Night of the Living Dead).
Most of these people initially see only their differences from one another, but it’s only by uniting to work together that any of them have a chance of survival as food dwindles and the threats continue to mount. So if we follow this theme and consider the negative concept to be isolation, then we can assume the negative force in the movie should represent that concept. So, if the creatures are isolation (leading to loneliness, depression, and eventually suicide), then the blindfolds represent our willingness to look past what separates us, ensuring that we’re no longer isolated. Good so far. But this is where the metaphors begin to get a little mixed.
In the Bird Box world, blindfolds keep people alive, but blindfolds are typically viewed as a negative thing; more of a separating force. And by being blindfolded, the characters end up becoming more isolated from one another, at least on a physical level. They can’t see each other, they can’t find each other easily if they’re outside. And then you throw in the immunes and their compulsion to get everyone to take off their blindfolds and it makes things even more muddled.
The birds in the box act like canaries in the coal mine from a plot perspective, but they’re likely representative of some sort of emotional self-preservation to distance you from the pain of isolation, which makes their release all the more confusing. I realize that there are a lot of ways to look at the metaphors in this film, but I’ve found that any way I analyze them, they’re either muddled or seem to be intentionally very cynical which makes this a confusing movie. Is it just messy writing or is it scathing social commentary? Is it a bad movie full of melodrama and false metaphors or is it a good movie full of thoughtful insight for those who dig deep enough to decipher it? I really don’t know.
I do know that regardless of those answers, at the very least, Bird Box has really got me thinking. Alright, let’s talk about the pros and cons. Pro number one is the idea behind the creatures. The ìrulesî surrounding them are never entirely clear and they get knocked by many for their similarity to the creatures in A Quiet Place, but I think it’s important to note that production on these two films was right around the same time (not to mention Bird Box is based on a 2014 book), so they’re not a rip-off. In horror, being unable to see the threat is an inherently scary thing, so this premise ups the ante by making that fear the only way you can survive.
The second pro is the fact that the movie sticks with you. Whether it was the filmmaker’s intention or not, I was thinking about this movie for days after I watched it. It’s got a decent story at its surface, but definitely attempts to have a deeper meaning too. It’s the kinda movie that makes me want to talk to other people to get their thoughts on the half-dozen or so explanation ideas I’ve got mapped out for the metaphors. On the con side, the biggest issue for me has gotta be the muddle metaphors. Leaving things up to the audience’s interpretation can work in certain situations, but I don’t think that was really the intention here.
This leaves us with frustratingly vague underlying metaphors that end up contradicting themselves. Second on the con side is the structure of the film. I want to be clear that I don’t hate it like some people do, but I do think this movie would have benefited from a straight-forward linear structure. The crosscutting takes a lot of suspense out of the movie, making it so you’re waiting around for the plot beats that you know are inevitably going to happen, rather than being surprised by revelations along the way. Con number three is the writing. I always feel a bit guilty putting something that broad in the cons, but the script is a bit of a mess.
The previous two cons fall under this too, but I wanted to specifically mention the frequently unnatural melodramatic dialogue as well as the multitude of loose plot threads that are never tied off. It almost feels more like a rough draft, whose writing was never quite finished. It’s a shame because a few simple changes restructuring, a bit more explanation, a touch of character motivation really could’ve tightened this up. I’m gonna give Bird Box 3.5 out of 5 stars. I know, I know. What about the messy writing and the muddled metaphors and the melodrama? I’ll be the first to admit that my rating is probably a bit higher than this movie deserves, but I actually enjoyed this one quite a bit. I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic films and I’ve also always liked Sandra Bullock, so Bird Box already had a bit of a head start for me.
I would recommend Bird Box to people who like post-apocalyptic movies, especially if you don’t mind if they stray from straight-up horror cause this is definitely more drama-thriller (with a few doses of melodrama) than anything actually scary. So if you’re looking for like a gateway apocalypse movie, this might be a good starting point for you. Plus this is on Netflix and you probably already have a Netflix subscription or at least somebody else’s password, so give it a shot. If you liked Bird Box, there are a few obvious films I’d recommend and a couple not so obvious ones. The most obvious is A Quiet Place. It’s a very different type of movie (and executed much better I think), but if you like impaired-senses-apocalypse-horror, you’ll probably like this one.
The next one I hesitate to even say that I recommend it, but there are a lot of crossties between the plot of Bird Box and The Happening. The Happening has a very interesting premise and I used to enjoy it, but it’s definitely one of those so bad, it’s almost-but-not-quite good movies, so fair warning on that one. As far as non-obvious recommendations go, my first would be Night of the Living Dead. There are quite a few parallels to that film and the five-years-before sequences of Bird Box, but Night of the Living Dead is more importantly a perfect example of underlying metaphors and social commentary in a horror film done right. So, if you like Bird Box’s attempt, but want something a little more fleshed out uh, no pun intended then check out that Romero classic.
My next recommendation is a little out here, but hear me out: 1967’s Wait until Dark starring Audrey Hepburn. Not apocalyptic in any way, but this one’s a really tense slow-burn psychological thriller that’s one of the most effective one-sense-removed movies out there. Alright, a couple questions for you guys. Number one: Have you seen Bird Box? If so, what’d you think of it? And number two: What’s your favorite post-apocalyptic movie that doesn’t involve zombies? Be sure to leave your answers in the comments below so we can get a discussion going.