I don’t like horror, terror or thriller films. It’s not just that I’m a frightened little man-child (which I undoubtedly am) but more that they always sacrifice the good things about films (character, setting, a coherent and structured plot) in favour of a few cheap jump-scares. Netflix’s Bird Box is supposedly a smash horror-terror hybrid, taking the film-streaming industry by storm but, to me, it was just another soft and feeble attempt at a thriller, propped up by a start-studded cast and a dynamite marketing campaign.
It would be unjust to totally disregard a piece of art that a team of people has spent time working on, so I’ll begin with some things I did like. Firstly, I quite liked the way the story was framed, setting up the ending first with a subtle and intriguing setup. Similarly, the initially unexplained role of the birds in their box (get it?) succinctly harked back (get it, again?) to the title, gently indicating their significance without ramming it down our throats. These simple concepts combined with strong performances from the ever-impressive John Malkovich and Sandra Bullock laid down the foundations for what could have been a really good film. It’s worth noting that these positives are more a result of the original novel, rather than the film studio.
A waste of talent
Unfortunately, Malkovich and Bullock, two Hollywood heavyweights, are let down by a poorly constructed script. The stereotypical nature of their characters combined with some really clunkily-written dialogue creates a lukewarm offering that fails to engage its audience. This was especially apparent for me in Malkovich’s character, Douglas commenting on having two pregnant women in his house, angry that it was being turned into a ‘maternity ward’. The audience is supposed to dislike Douglas and side with Bullock (Malorie) but doesn’t he have a point? They’re trying to survive a literal apocalypse and two infants is only going to make that harder. Also, it’s his bloody house and his wife just died.
Equals parts predictable and maddeningly unpredictable
It is entirely beyond me how quickly these characters figured out the problem. Malorie sees a lady smashing her head into a hospital window and, based on a few newscasts she’s seen on TV, she knows exactly what’s going on? Jog on. There’s a supposed epidemic on the news nearly every day in the real world, but I don’t go assuming the next person to sneeze has got hypobacterial swine flu, do I? How does she, and everyone who invite themselves into Douglas’ house suddenly have a working understanding of a complex, supernatural entity? It makes no sense.
On the other end of the spectrum, Bird Box is also happy to sit in the middle of the predictable. It may be a slightly unfair criticism to call predictability a flaw in this film seeing as most films have to stick to certain conventions, unless they’re directed by M. Knight Shyamalan, in which case they tend to do whatever the hell they want. In this case, my issue stemmed from the scene in which Greg, portrayed by BD Wong, decides it’s a good idea to watch CCTV footage to find out the identity of their mysterious attackers. Surely, in a universe where everyone has magically figured out what’s going on around them with no effort, it’s obvious what’s going to happen here? If that was me or any other rational human being, you wouldn’t take that risk.
Stop telling me things are good and actually make good content!
The PR department at Netflix deserve a medal, because they’re consistently convincing people to watch new shows and films without even needing them to be good. Oh, Bird Box is a 90% match with my binge-watching of Teen Mom UK and Impractical Jokers? Great news! Instead of producing high quality content, Netflix aims for ‘memeable’ and banks on tweenagers promoting their stuff by taking the piss out of it. Personally, I would much rather see the money I’m pumping into Netflix being turned into interesting, original viewing.
Perhaps we’re getting to a stage where films that create meme-worthy content rather than quality entertainment are the pinnacle of cinema but, for me, I’m more interested in seeing well-written characters challenged with thought-provoking plots. Failing that, give me Jason Statham and Daniel Craig flying helicopters through slowly closing, metal blast doors and I’ll be satiated. Unfortunately, Bird Box fails on both.