BIRD BOX (October 9th)
YOU'VE GOT RED ON YOU TAKES PART IN THE 31 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN CHALLENGE; WATCHING ONE HORROR MOVIE A DAY THROUGHOUT OCTOBER. SOME OF THEM OLD, SOME OF THEM NEW, SOME OF THEM HAVE JUST BEEN ON OUR SHELVES FOR YEARS GATHERING DUST, STILL IN CELLOPHANE...
I'm still getting used to the whole 'Netflix has just released a horror film' thing. There's something cool about hearing some chatter about a film after it has played at a festival or two and then seeing a trailer – and then patiently waiting for a few months for a release. On the other hand it's great when something is just suddenly available, without any real build up. 1922, Apostle, Cargo, The Perfection and The Babysitter were all just there all of a sudden. But perhaps the biggest surprise horror release (some people like to call it a psychological thriller but it isn't, it's a horror movie) is 2018's Bird Box, starring Sandra Bullock, which was apparently watched over 40 million times in its first week of release on the streaming platform. It's one that certainly divides viewers and I think that and the fact that it is over two hours long are the main reasons I haven't seen the film. Until now...
Based on the 2014 novel of the same name (by Josh Malerman), the film opens with a woman named Malorie giving a rather intense pep talk to her two young unnamed children (they're just called 'boy and 'girl'). She tells them that they are going on a long trip and that they must do what she says and only talk to her if they think they 'hear something'. But most important of all, not to remove their blindfolds. If they do, they will die. They then leave the house, blindfolds on and get into a boat and begin a trek downriver. The film then navigates between two timelines; one, with Malorie and the two kids on the river and the other set five years previously, where a pregnant Malorie is visited by her sister who tells her about a strange event that is happening in Romania and Russia, where thousands of people are killing themselves. The phenomenon appears to be spreading across Europe too. Malorie's sister drives her to a check-up at the hospital. Everything is looking good on the baby front. However, as they leave the hospital it becomes evident that whatever is happening in Europe has now spread to America. Malorie soon realises that there is something out there that, if you look at it, will cause you to go mad and commit suicide. We then alternate back and forth between both timelines until they have caught up with each other.
I must be honest, I am not quite sure why Bird Box seems to be loathed by so many people. It's over two hours long and I was watching in a state of mild concern that at some point, it was going to do something that caused me to turn on it. But that wasn't the case. In fact, I was pretty much enthralled throughout most of it. That's not to say the film doesn't have its issues because it does. Sandra Bullock is actually very good but I can see why her character might not connect with some people. She's a little cold and detached. A number of the other characters in this feel quite underdeveloped too. If you've got 125 minutes, you've surely got enough time to round these people off a bit? The decision to navigate between two timelines also feels unnecessary. There really isn't any reason to not just have a linear structure and actually detracts a little from the tension.
That said, issues with characters and narrative format are softened by the fact that the concept of the movie is so bloody good. Detractors often cite that it is a cross between A Quiet Place and The Happening. I get those points but what I would say is that the film was actually written and optioned before A Quiet Place was made and apart from the 'mass suicide' element, it bears no other relation to the wildly uneven Shyamalan debacle. It actually feels more like Fernando Meireilles underappreciated (but bleak) Blindness (2018). The reality is that it's virtually impossible to make any movie nowadays that doesn't feel a little derivative and any accusations of plagiarism levelled at Bird Box fall on my deaf ears.
The ambiguity of the 'entities' is also a masterstroke too. We get some speculation, but not enough for it to lose its sense of mystery and unease. All we know is that if our characters see them, bad shit happens and it happens on a number of occasions. The scene where Malorie is driven home from the hospital by her sister as chaos reigns around her on the streets is just great – and there are a few other great moments of suspense and tension. The horror of how prone we'd be without one of our senses is a fear we can all relate to and Bird Box efficiently plays off of it. Director Susan Bier also manages to give this post apocalyptic tale a bright, vibrant look which makes a nice change from the usual dull greyness that a lot of its peers plump for.
All in all, I had a lot of fun with this. A thrilling concept executed well and it left me trawling google for fan theories and easter eggs etc. Which is always a good sign.