Humans are obsessed with control. This is a big issue because life is pure chaos. And yet this fact does little to dissuade us. We still create rules, search for meaning, and do our best to increase our chance of survival on a day-to-day basis. We also make comparisons. We try to put things into neat boxes as a way to organize and understand the world. This can be good. It can lead to discovering new things you might enjoy. Hey, you like the band Led Zeppelin? Check out Greta Van Fleet! Did you grow up playing Monopoly? Give Settlers of Catan a go! Enjoyed the eerie, engrossing, and tightly paced movie A Quiet Place? Check out the cheesy, predictable, and scattered film Bird Box on Netflix right now! Wait a minute…
Comparisons don’t always work. In fact, they can make you feel ripped off. Like when your friend tells you to check out the new Netflix original movie Bird Box starring Sandra Bullock because it’s *just* like 2018’s critically acclaimed movie A Quiet Place except with the danger being vision not sound! Great, I thought, John Krasinki’s brilliant directorial debut is having a quick and important impact on modern horror films! What could go wrong? Bird Box, that went wrong.
A Quiet Place was deliberate, with moment-to-moment tension. Each moment had a purpose and a chilling threat that something could go wrong at a literal drop of a dime. It also had the advantage of a more cinematic human sense, sound, being stripped away from it’s characters. The film could, and did, mute the sounds in key scenes to let you see the world from Regan’s deaf point of view. In addition, they spent very little time digging into the character’s lives and back stories. Typically ignoring this side of your characters would drag a movie down. In this case it forced the viewers to feel more empathy, and therefore fear, for this family. All the audience knew was this was a family, stripped down to straight survival.
Meanwhile, Bird Box opens up with a family, on a river, blind folded. There’s a mother and two children. They are surrounded by an eerie and cold fog. It’s gripping and intense. The mother is scolding the children like a military leader. Ruthless, annoyed, but it is clear what she is saying is important and their only chance of survival. Who are these people? How did they get here? It doesn’t matter, all the audience needs to know is they are on a river in a small boat without sight and they need to survive. I’m all in.
And then? Flashback to five years earlier. We see the mom, she’s pregnant, the news is reporting a strange wave of mass suicides, she goes to the doctor, on her way home the thing that was on the news is happening around her, people are dying, she needs to find shelter, she gets trapped with an eclectic group of diverse strangers, what will they *ever* do to survive? Yawn.
This is the difference between these two thriller movies. A Quiet Place hardly ever lets up for the audience. Bird Box endlessly jumps back between a standard grade, B-movie, apocalypse story (without any songs this time!) and a thrilling, minimalist survival movie on a roaring river without sight! This is two movies plopped together with the former, less enticing, story taking the majority of the film time while the latter follows along wishing it could take the spotlight on it’s own.
While I was left frustrated, I feel like I should be fair and admit it’s mostly due to the lazy comparisons to a movie I loved. Bird Box is worth checking out for Sandra Bullock’s performance and for the cinematic river scenes. Oh and the memes. ALL. OF. THE. MEMES! Plus the sub-text is fun to dissect, is it about motherhood? Or maybe racism? Maybe both?
And yet, despite Bird Box reportedly being the most viewed original movie in it’s first week, when you strip away the memes and the comparisons and you imagine a different, less-heralded actress in the starring role, it’s plain to see that Bird Box is nothing but a standard apocalypse movie that takes the worst things about The Walking Dead (too many characters, awkward acting, the endless hope of sanctuaries) and puts a blind fold over the camera sometimes.