In Netflix’s latest original horror film Bird Box, based on the 2014 book by Josh Malerman, mysterious creatures drive people to play out their deepest fears and kill themselves. Survivors trying to stay alive remain locked indoors with windows covered, and wear blindfolds when venturing outside.
Sandra Bullock plays Malorie, a mother protecting two children from monsters the viewer doesn’t ever get a glimpse of. And that isn’t even the biggest problem in the story. You don’t need to see a creepy monster for a movie to be scary, but you do need a believable plot. Absurd moments throughout the film make it hard to grasp.
In the beginning, Malorie watches a TV news report that shows various countries dealing with a fast-spreading hysteria that causes people to act irrationally and hurt themselves. While at the hospital for a prenatal care visit, Malorie sees a woman hit her head repeatedly against a glass wall for no apparent reason — similar to events in another horror film, The Happening.
On the way home from the hospital, Malorie’s sister (Sarah Paulson) ‘sees’ the creature and then deliberately crashes the car with a very pregnant Malorie in it. The thing is, Malorie never sees the same thing her sister does, and manages to make it inside a house with other survivors.
This post-apocalyptic thriller can be downright frustrating. First off, every character feels like a trope — a gay guy who’s generous with his home, a tattoo-covered bad boy, a bitter man with a gun, a would-be sci-fi writer, a former soldier, an old lady who saves the day, and so on. Do we really need that many characters? Even the characters seem to know they’re filler.
With the movie flipping back and forth between past and present, it’s difficult to feel any sense of urgency when we see who survives and who doesn’t before they actually die.
Then there are the implausible moments. Since when do grocery stores — like the abandoned one the survivors first raid — sell pet birds? And why are birds the only creatures that warn people of the monsters?
While we’re at it, how does the electricity still work in a house years after the monsters caused a large chunk of the population to kill themselves? Who exactly is still around to run a major city’s electrical grid? And how the heck did Malorie, two kids and one other survivor manage to find enough food during that time merely by stealing from nearby houses?
Also, why did citizens use meager strips of fabric for blindfolds? It’s easy for a blindfold like that to fall off just hitting a piñata at a kid’s birthday party, let alone running from a monster in a forest. Yet those things stayed on in every hectic chase scene like they were attached with superglue.
This brings me to that perilous two-day trip down a river full of dangerous rapids in a rickety rowboat with Malorie and two young kids — all while blindfolded.
Even the most experienced outdoorsman would have problems navigating rough water in a crappy boat. But taking two small children on a river ride without them wearing a floatation vest or getting a single swimming lesson? That just seems like bad parenting.
You know what else feels like bad parenting? Screaming at two children not to leave the boat or you’ll hurt them. There’s being a protective parent and then there’s acting like Joan Crawford. Even with all of Malorie’s yelling to follow her simple rules, the kids manage to disobey and wander off twice.
While the idea of a sinister force stalking mom and her two kids sounds like a fun thing to watch, all those unrealistic moments made me pause the movie to try to make sense of it all. And I couldn’t. Not once.
Netflix says Bird Box had a record-breaking debut, but by the end of the film, I started to wish I’d blindfolded myself. In fact, I started to root for the monsters. Alas, Malorie and her kids survive and find the safe oasis she braved the river rapids for, which worries me we’re headed for a sequel. But next time, I’ll have my own box of birds to warn me not to watch.