Bird Box review: The Pigeonhole Principle

After the movie ended, my friend Jacob broke a prolonged silence with: “you know what they say… a bird in the hand is worth 3 in the box.” That was probably the highlight of my viewing experience.

Premise

Man, the sequel to The Blind Side got kinda dark.

Plot

The set-up to the movie is thus: sometime in [current year], a bunch of spooky demon-creatures come down to Earth. No one knows how they got there, what they are, or what they want. Seeing one of these creatures “corrupts” people, causing them to promptly an hero (with some exceptions).

Following The Leftovers-style initial mayhem, where we get to see people kill themselves in a variety of ways (mainly car-related, but also a few “banging heads into walls”), a bunch of strangers end up in a house together.

We got Sandra Bullock’s character, Malorie, a pregnant painter who makes… renaissance style art? (with chiaroscuro up the wazoo— kinda figured that whole genre died, but good shit). Tom, a veteran and generally nice guy. Greg, the homeowner played by a weirdly jubilant B.D. Wong (nice change of pace from Mr. Robot). Douglas, a drunk asshole, played by John Malkovich (classic). Cheryl, who’s old. Felix, played by Machine Gun Kelly (whom Jacob referred to as “Jesse skull legs”), who does drugs. Lucy, who’s a cop, sort of. And Charlie, a grocery store employee and prospective novelist. Later, the gang’s joined by Olympia, another pregnant lady who no one really seems to like and makes bad decisions.

Greg decides to use the home’s security system to observing the creatures, reasoning that viewing them on video should hinder any hypothetical hysteria. It doesn’t, and he hits his head against a counter real hard and dies. The others decide that they need to go on a supply run, and use the GPS on their JeepTM Grand Cherokee to navigate to Charlie’s supermarket. This probably shouldn’t have worked, given that the roads would’ve been covered in wrecked and abandoned vehicles from the opening sequence, but whatever. Douglas gets alcohol, Tom gets radios, Malorie gets… birds, and Charlie dies when a crazy ex-employee bursts in through the shipping dock and tries to get everyone to look at the monsters. The survivors make it back to the house.

Lucy and Felix, who have been getting freaky in the laundry room, steal the car and dip, leaving everyone else stuck in the house. Olympia lets in Gary, a British guy who claims to have been chased by mental patients. Olympia and Malorie go into labor at the same time, and Cheryl helps deliver the babies. Gary, who actually is one of the crazy people    (😮), takes this as an opportunity to tear down all the covering from the windows in an attempt to see the creatures once more. He comes into the bedroom and tries to get the two newborns to look at the demons, but various residents fight him off. Eventually, everyone dies except Malorie, Tom, and the two babies.

Five years into the future, Tom and Malorie live a relatively normal life with the two kids, neither of whom have been given actual names, simply referred to as “boy” and “girl.” They receive a radio signal from “Rick” who tells them that they have a safe space up the river. Tom and Malorie go on a supply run, but encounter a band of crazy people, all of whom Tom kills, but sees one of the creatures in the process, and kills himself.

Malorie and the children get into a boat and float down the river, blindfolded for the duration of the journey. They carry a box of birds with them, which supposedly acts as a warning signal against the monsters. Eventually, they get washed ashore and separated. Once they reunite, they follow the sound of bird calls to the refuge, which turns out to be a school for the blind. Then everyone lives happily ever after. The end.

Characters

Malorie- Malorie goes from being kinda toxic at the beginning of the movie, to extremely toxic at the end. Like I get where she’s coming from, what with her sister killing herself, and all her friends killing themselves, and her post-apocalyptic boyfriend killing himself, and having to be in Bird Box, but she’s one of the most abrasive protagonists I’ve seen in dystopian fiction. I guess that’s not inherently a bad thing, since Malorie’s toxicity might be warranted as a defense mechanism to keep her and the kids safe. It’s pretty unusual to see an adult in movies yell at and threaten children, but I don’t exactly blame her. Shout-out to this movie for not sugarcoating the main character to make them more likable.

Tom- Tom is honestly too nice for his own good, which is sad, cause he should be the most likable character in the movie. The issue is he makes all these poor decisions, namely with regard to opening doors for people that he probably shouldn’t be opening doors for. He’s also ridiculously overpowered, taking down 4 crazy bois while blindfolded and shooting a 5th after his mind’s been corrupted by the spooky demons.

Machine Gun Kelly- So I know I already roasted MGK in this *savage* tweet, but he honestly had my favorite character arc in the entire movie. Just a quick recap of the Jesse Skull Legs story: took drugs → hit on cop girl —> had sex with cop girl —> stole car and left. I mean, if that’s not #goals, I don’t know what is. After this point, we never see either of those characters again, leaving me and Jacob to speculate as to what happened to them after. We settled on the conclusion that sometime within 30 seconds of leaving the house, they crashed the car and died. Damn kids with their looking-at-the-GPS-instead-of-out-the-window and driving.

The Kids- So I know there’s this whole “child actors are the worst thing ever” circlejerk, and in general I don’t necessarily disagree, but the kids in this movie are pretty good. They aren’t in the movie all that long, and neither of them talk very much, but the parts they do get are solid.

Dialogue

This movie has one of the sharpest contrasts between “quality of acting” and “quality of script” I’ve seen. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of bad movies that get good actors thrown in for headline value, but this isn’t one of them. Like normally when A-listers take shitty tv movie roles, they don’t give a fuck about the project they’re in, which is then clearly evident in their performance. Yet here, it’s obvious that the actors actually cared enough to try, at least a little bit.

The dialogue isn’t nonsensically bad— at every point it was clear what the characters were trying to say, it just didn’t always come out in the best way. I think my favorite thing in the movie was when characters would repeat what they were saying over and over again. Not even necessarily for emphasis; there were just instances where people would say the same thing multiple times.

There’s one point in the movie where Sandra Bullock is talking about her sister’s death, and she says something along the lines of, “that wasn’t like Jess. Jess got sad… Jess was never sad.” Which makes me think that the two probably weren’t that close.

Probably the low point of the movie was when John Malkovich’s character was doing what I think was supposed to be a Trump impression? But it just made no sense and felt super out of place. I’m a dumb Libtard, and even I felt pandered to. But I guess uhh…

 

The Monsters

So it’s never really explained how the monsters work, nor do we get to see them, but from what we know in the movie, you can kind of piece together that these are some Lovecraftian, otherworldly demons which, upon witnessing, drive someone insane and causes them to kill themselves. But then you got the “crazies,” who see the monsters and are just… fine after? So I guess if your mind’s already fucked up, seeing the demons just converts you to a cultist. Which got me to thinking: what type of mental illness qualifies you to be a demon acolyte? Cause flipping through the DSM-V, there’s a lot of stuff here that I feel like wouldn’t really fit the bill. Are people with anxiety good to go for demon-worship? What about people who have this: https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/internet-gaming? Is it only them? Are the demons helping #GamersRiseUp?

Also, we know from when B.D. Wong’s character tries to look at the monsters on video that they still kill you, but how far does that go? Like if you get a super low resolution picture of one of the creatures would it still kill you? What if it’s only a few pixels? Is .JPEG the solution to the Bird Box apocalypse?

One interesting thing which the movie totally glossed over was what happens with newborns and young children when they see the monsters. There were a few close calls, but we never get answers. Babies don’t really have a way to kill themselves, and there minds are, in theory, not developed enough to comprehend “the horror” yet, so what actually happens? Do they become crazy?

Another thing: the titular “birds in box” don’t really do anything. They’re supposed to be this warning device against the monsters, but they’re not necessary; the protagonists never take their blindfolds off regardless, so nothing they do is in any way impacted by how the birds respond. If they could warn against the cult psychos, that’d be one thing, but they don’t seem to be able to do that, so I don’t know why they bother having them.

It would’ve made more sense to actually use the birds in the beginning (walk around normally and just throw the blindfolds on when they start chirping), and then lose them at some point so that they had to start wearing them all the time. As-is the birds are just an annoying way of drawing attention to themselves for no reason.

Visuals

One thing that distinguishes Bird Box as “Netflix Original” over “blockbuster movie” is the presentation. Don’t get me wrong, the beginning and ending of the movie actually look alright. The forest shots have a nice eerie atmosphere to them, and the scenes where they’re on the river look pretty. The action sequence at the beginning, while derivative, also isn’t done too badly. But then you have the house scenes, which at best look like a Hallmark movie, and at worst like a reality TV show. I don’t actually blame the DP for this; given how little he had to work with, I can understand not wanting to put in a ton of effort. If the script didn’t care enough to try for these parts, why should anyone else on set?

Other than that, I do have a few minor complaints about certain parts. There’s this really unnatural zooming effect in some of the forest scenes, when the camera closes in but like, too fast. During the forest sequence, every few minutes it cuts to this shot of the camera looking through a blindfold, which I guess is supposed to be Malorie’s POV. Was this really necessary? Did we have to be reminded that she’s wearing a blindfold, given that she’s literally always wearing a blindfold?

Analysis

So obviously, this movie is an allegory for the complex intricacies of central banking, and the delicate process of setting interest rates. Apparently not everyone sees it that way, so here are some other crackpot theories about the meaning of Bird Box.

The monsters represent “depression”
Reference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnRmPpEpCLQ

This seems to be a pretty popular theory, with the idea being that the monsters represent mental illness in some form, with the suicide angle being pretty obvious. My main contention with the video I linked is that the guy asserts that the “crazies” are able to withstand the monsters since their previous dealings with mental illness equipped them with some sort of immunity, since they’ve already encountered the kind of issues the monsters embody But then that would mean that anyone who’s posted “relatable depression” memes would be fine, which leaves a good number of millenials and gen-Z’ers standing. RIP the post-demon-invasion housing market.

The monsters represent “our personal demons”
Reference: https://medium.com/@marygabriellestrause/analysis-of-netflixs-bird-box-a-deeper-meaning-a9c93a4ec8e 

This theory is probably more plausible, but let’s just run it with it for a bit. Let’s say the monsters do, in fact, represent our personal unconfronted demons, and our penchant for ignoring them. What exactly is the message of Bird Box then? That ignoring your problems is the way to go, but only if you do it really hard? It’d be one thing if the characters in the movie overcame the monsters by coming face-to-face with them (figuratively and literally) and removing the threat (à la It), but they very explicitly spend the entire movie avoiding the monsters at all costs. So even if this was the intended metaphor, the ramifications of that make the film worse-off than if it didn’t have any meaning at all.

Conclusion

The only thing Bird Box really proves is that Netflix has enough social media leverage that they can turn even the most unremarkable property into an online talking point. Why they decided to put so much effort into marketing a movie that no one cared that much about and, to my knowledge, probably wasn’t that big of an investment (at least compared to some other stuff that Netflix has bought) is beyond me. Unfortunately, since this was a movie released online, we won’t get any Bird-Box office numbers, but according to their own analytics, this film was really popular. I guess at the very least it gave exposure to some obscure actors like Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich, and B.D. Wong. Good on you, Reed— keep looking out for the little guy.

Good for: Holding Twitter’s attention for five minutes

Bad for: Netflix’s public liability

Bod R8s: 4.3/8

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