Review: Bird Box Rounds Out a Year Of Horror Movies About Mothers
Two and a half out of five blindfolds
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I watched Netflix’s latest horror offering Bird Box. The apocalyptic horror venture from director Susanne Bier and actress Sandra Bullock is, essentially, a chattier version of A Quiet Place; this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because I loved A Quiet Place, but I’ll take the latter over the former in the end. The film does provide a nice bookend for a year full of horror films and shows about motherhood, family, and the trauma there, however.
Bullock stars as Malorie, a mother-to-be who finds herself pregnant at the end of the world. This time, the apocalypse comes from unseen monsters who, if you see them, drive you to kill yourself. It’s a dark apocalypse, similar to The Happening. Unlike A Quiet Place, part of the film is set at the start of the apocalypse, where we see news broadcasts and a couple scenes of mass devastation. The other part of the film is set five years after the fact, where Malorie and two children are trying to navigate their way to a supposed safe zone.
The metaphors, unfortunately, don’t work supremely well. While A Quiet Place functioned fairly well as an examination of the lengths we will go to protect our family, and Hereditary spoke on generational trauma, the children don’t play nearly as large a role in this. The film is more about acceptance of motherhood in extreme circumstances, but again, the film focuses more on the before part that the motherhood is more of an afterthought, tacked onto the end to make the film have a message.
Still, as an apocalyptic thriller, it’s not half bad. We have our usual apocalypse survivors lined up: tough-as-nails Malorie who’s the tomboy of it all, courageous and caring love interest Tom (Trevante Rhodes, infinitely appealing here), the cynical hardass Douglas (John Malkovich), and the sweet but soft Olympia (Danielle Macdonald). Both Olympia and Malorie are pregnant, which I expected to somehow impact their roles in the story, but alas, pregnancy and children are not somehow immune to whatever monsters are lurking under the bed.
The gimmick of not being able to look at the monsters or they’ll kill you actually works rather nicely. However, I would have appreciated a little more backstory here. We don’t know where these monsters come from. Even in A Quiet Place, we get some backstory via the news clippings that the father has pinned up in the basement.
Here, there’s talk of biowarfare and angels from on high and a reference to obscure Christian occult lore, but nothing ever really comes of it. However, while there are some creepy drawings that imply what the creatures might look like, we never have to deal with CGI monstrosities, which is always a relief.
The movie is adapted from the novel of the same name by Josh Malerman. I found myself interested in reading the book, because Malorie felt as though she could be so much more on the page rather than in the abridged story onscreen. There were characters I wanted to know more about, who I wondered how they would translate in the original story. The script feels like it wants to hit certain beats, and therefore it rushes from event to event with a rapid-fire quickness. There is little time for character growth at the end of the world.
One interesting beat is how some characters seem to have seen the creatures and lived to tell the tale. I wanted to know more about them and their weird behaviors, but unfortunately, they were there to be antagonists about three times and leave it at that.
If you’re feeling like the earlier films of the year didn’t do a good enough job of covering mothers in horror, then maybe check this out; similarly, if you need a burst of apocalyptic horror over the holidays, this might be a decent fit. Otherwise, it’s forgettable next to other horror offerings of the year. Go rewatch A Quiet Place and relish the well-executed scares of that film.
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