A bird in a box is worth two in the bush.
December 21st was the release of the Netflix original movie, Bird Box, based on the 2014 novel written by Josh Malerman. Danish director Susanne Bier (The Night Manager) and screenwriter Eric Heisserer (The Conjuring 2, Lights Out, Arrival) collaborated to create a thrilling, visually stunning cinematic interpretation of the book. Both the book and film jump between the past and present to create a complex, interwoven timeline of events, and the production team handles this masterfully.
The film stars Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side, Ocean’s 8) as Malorie, a no-nonsense survivor of the “end times.” To begin with, Malorie is pregnant; the child’s father is not in the picture, she is not excited about becoming a mother, and her only family is her sister Jess, played by Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story, Ocean’s 8). Reports of people going insane and committing suicide in Russia begin to spread to the western coast of the United States. Malorie doesn’t think too much about it until what starts as a normal car ride home from the OBGYN quickly escalates into a living nightmare.
She finds her way into the house of a man named Greg (BD Wong: Jurassic Park, Law and Order: SVU) where she then meets Tom (Trevante Rhodes: Moonlight, The Predator), Douglas (John Malkovich: Of Mice and Men, Deepwater Horizon), Sheryl (Jacki Weaver: The Disaster Artist, Irreplaceable You), and Charlie (Lil Rey Howery: Get Out). Machine Gun Kelly (Beyond the Lights, Nerve) and Rosa Salazar (Maze Runner series, Alita: Battle Angel) also have small roles as the characters Lucy and Felix, but they enter and exit so quickly, they have little impact on the film as a whole.
Based on reports and what they’ve witnessed, the group realizes that there are creatures of unknown origin roaming the earth. If you look at one of these beings, one of two things will happen. The most common occurrence is that you experience your “worst fear, greatest sadness, or deepest loss,” and the grief will drive you to instantly commit suicide. The other possibility is that you will become “enlightened” by these creatures and attempt to “recruit” others into looking at the creatures. The phrase often uttered by these people is, “They’re beautiful. They want you to see them.” The only defense against these beings is to cover all doors, windows, etc. and to cover one’s eyes with a blindfold when venturing out of the house. Malorie also finds some birds and discovers that she can use them as an alarm for when the creatures are near, hence the title.
Eventually another pregnant woman, Olympia (Danielle Macdonald: Patti Cake$, Dumplin’), turns up at the door and begs to be accepted into the house. She serves as a foil to Malorie’s character, contrasting with her both physically and emotionally. Where Malorie is thin, dark, and hard, Olympia is round, blonde, optimistic, and in love with the baby she carries. Another stranger, Gary (Tom Hollander: Pirates of the Caribbean, Bohemian Rhapsody), comes into the home, and things take a turn for the worse.
In order to avoid spoilers, I will not go into detail about the events that follow Gary’s arrival, but essentially, Malorie, Tom, and the two babies (Malorie’s and Olympia’s) end up alone. They learn of another community’s existence via handheld radio, and Malorie and Tom prepare and plan to make the trip to find the community. There is one catch, however: they must journey down a river by boat–blindfolded. Again, I won’t spoil how this comes to be, but Malorie embarks on this journey alone with the two children. Flashback sequences show her training the children to be able to differentiate between different noises and detect proximity, the size of spaces, etc.
The film takes some liberties with Malerman’s storyline, as films do. The most noticeable change is the relationship between Malorie and Tom. Their relationship in the novel is more of a close friendship, whereas in the film, they develop a romantic partnership. One thing that is interesting about this is the age difference between the actors; Bullock is 54 and Rhodes is only 28. The trend in the film industry has traditionally been to cast a young woman with a much older male actor, so it’s interesting to see this tradition flipped.
While I have some minor qualms with this change due to my belief that the Hollywood tends to force unnecessary romantic plots/subplots on its viewers, I do believe that this change works for the story. Malorie is detached from the children, so much so that their names are literally Boy and Girl. It’s clear that Malorie cares about keeping the children alive, but she shows little compassion towards them and speaks to/treats them harshly. Tom calls her out on this, telling her that there’s no point in keeping them alive if they have nothing to hope for.
Some dramatic elements are also added to the film to heighten the suspense and create a more heartfelt ending. Malorie reveals tidbits about her life to other members of the house, and she reveals that she had a rough upbringing with an emotionally abusive father. Her walls and tough exterior are a defense mechanism that she uses to avoid becoming emotionally attached to anyone. She eventually realizes that Tom was right, acknowledging that she risks losing the children to the temptation to look at the creatures, aka, to see beyond the bleak and desolate world they’ve always known. Bullock does a great job of portraying this range of emotions throughout the film and balancing the suspenseful elements with the dramatic moments.
The creatures are never actually shown in the film. They are artfully depicted by swirls of levitating leaves and faint whispers of voices. Normally, this would bother me because I’m very much a completist when it comes to books, movies, etc. However, it didn’t bother me because it made sense. We are seeing everything through the lens of Malorie’s perspective; she never sees the creatures, so neither do we. The voices are an invention of the film, but it adds a layer by increasing the temptation to intentionally look at the creatures. In a world where the characters must rely mostly on sound, how could they not want the madness to end?
My overall thoughts are that this was one of the better book-to-film adaptations I’ve seen; I’d even go so far as to say that I enjoyed the film more than the book. Where the novel had some issues with wooden dialogue and some events/descriptions that were confusing to read, the film laid everything out in a way that made sense. The audience does not get answers to all of their questions, but there is logic within the chaos. This is one of the best horror films of 2018, especially since many horror/thriller/sci-fi films this year have been underwhelming. I would compare it to John Krazinski’s A Quiet Place, which was released earlier this year.
Bird Box is currently streaming on Netflix.
Written by Alix Teague
(Alix is a fan of memes, puns, and unironically using words like “yeet.” She also has an MA in literature, so she’s clearly putting it to good use. She likes to refer to herself as the Millennial Bard. Follow Alix on anything at @alixplainlater)