TSJ Interprets BIRD BOX, a Netflix Original
BIRD BOX is a gripping horror/survival/post-apocalyptic film. The disaster reveal happens near the beginning of the movie, but it does not explain the “monsters” in any real detail (more on this later). This is another film in the horror sub-genre involving a sensory deprivation. Recent examples include DON’T BREATHE and A QUIET PLACE. In those films, the story forces characters to remain silent or risk death. In the case of BIRD BOX, however, the sense involved is sight. If the characters see the monster, they die — in this case, victims kill themselves after witnessing the creatures.
Sandra Bullock portrays Mallory, an artist who has difficulty forging human connections. She’s becoming a recluse — a loner — and has more or less shut herself off from the world. She’s pregnant, but the father is not a part of her life. Enter into the picture her sister Jessica (Sarah Paulson) who accompanies Mallory to an appointment at the hospital. During the visit, all hell breaks loose as an epidemic of violence spreads from Europe to North America faster than anyone could have predicted. Within minutes we’re thrown into the chaos as Mallory and Jessica attempt to drive from the hospital and the ensuing violence. Soon Mallory ends up stranded in a house with numerous strangers, and a familiar scenario
involving a cast of characters sheltering from violence and relying on each other to not only survive, but to figure out what the hell is going on, begins. The supporting cast includes John Malkovich, BD Wong (JURASSIC WORLD), and Trevante Rhodes (MOONLIGHT). The cast is fantastic and their struggle to coexist interesting. What’s more engaging, however, are the monsters. Characters are forced to black out the windows so no one can see them, but when food supplies grow sparse, a foraging expedition is necessary, and the film really got interesting. A trip to the grocery store has never been more dangerous — except in the movie MIST, I guess.
I won’t say what happens next, but the overriding theme of the movie focuses on Mallory’s inability to form human connections, while at the same time experiencing an escalating desire to protect others in her care. It’s an interesting conundrum, and it all comes to a head at the climax of the film during a trip down a river. There is a real journey for Mallory — not just a physical one — and as a viewer we’re there with her as she’s torn about how to survive. This movie is riveting and tense — edge of the seat tension — and I should stop being surprised by the level of entertainment Netflix has to offer, and not just with series like crime documentaries or other Netflix originals like MIND HUNTER. BIRD BOX is a quality thriller in every sense (pun intended) and easily an entertaining Friday or Saturday-night film.
The Monsters as Metaphor, and a Glass House
The writers don’t fully explain the monsters, though a character does posit a theory about them representing evil and dread and peoples’ deepest fears. Mythology and fables as real forces, basically. Are they demons? Spirits? Otherworldly of some sort? From a different dimension? The movie doesn’t explain them — doesn’t even show them — and I appreciated this fact. They were a force of nature, and people must adapt or die. It’s Mallory who’s important in this movie, not the monsters. Her history, her character, her journey. The pain and hardship that she endures to survive. She’s the core of BIRD BOX. Her inability to form human connections is the essential crux of her character, and in a way it’s parallel to John Malkovich’s Douglas. “There are only two types of people — the assholes and the dead,” he says. It’s an interesting theory. He’s saying that you’ll only survive if you think just of yourself. But this goes against everything that Mallory is facing. She can’t form human relationships, but she’s pregnant and soon can’t be thinking of herself. Parents are selfless — they have to be — so if she endorses this logic, and continues on the path she’s been on, then it means she has to sacrifice her child in order to survive. Hell, she doesn’t even give the children in the movie names! They’re simply “Boy” and “Girl.” In many ways the monsters represent her inability to form human connections, and perhaps this is a good thing for her. If she wants to survive, after all, she shouldn’t feel a connection to anybody or anything. And this is from where much of the tension and drama comes. It’s this place — Sandra Bullock’s character — where the viewer lives, and we’re desperate to know what she’s going to do. The film is about motherhood and parenting, and the monsters are the demons that always live in the background. Can she sacrifice her own selfish needs and personality traits in order to be a mother? This sets up a later dilemma in the river, and she does make her decision regarding human connection, and it’s a satisfying choice for the character.
Malkovich’s Douglas adds layers to the narrative. He’s suing his neighbor (BD Wong) for wanting to build a “glass monstrosity” where the current house resides. It adds depth to the relationship between the characters, and perhaps this is what attracted Malkovich to the role. But what about this glass structure? Why doesn’t he want it there? “Because I’ll have to look at it,” he tells Mallory. It’s a confusing statement at first, but as a viewer we understand why later. The glass addition is a metaphor for the disaster they’re facing. After all, if you live in a glass building, you’ll die. Yes, he’s being an asshole, as he admits, but in reality he’s (unknowingly) keeping people alive by being the person that others innately don’t want to be. For Bullock, who is disconnected and unable to form relationships, he’s telling her to be an asshole to survive. Mallory disagrees, however, and inadvertently he forces her to do the opposite: become a caring and compassionate person … and that might actually save her.
I have watched Bullock for many years now. I first noticed her in SPEED, and thirty years later she’s now had quite the career. THE BLIND SIDE was magical. GRAVITY was incredible. She’s able to pick movies that are not just entertaining, they’re layered with character and depth. BIRD BOX discusses Mallory’s history and background only briefly — raised by an uncaring and uninterested mother while father was absent — and it’s these things that have created the character Bullock is portraying. Her history dictates her personality, and Bullock reaches back to pluck bits and pieces from the past to create Mallory. It’s a strong role for her; she’s powerful as this character. She’s a joy to watch.
Inclusive and Gender Equal
I loved the fact that the film was inclusive. The cast is multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and LGBTQ. Susanne Bier directed it . Additionally, BD Wong (from JURASSIC PARK and WORLD) was entertaining as always. And a love story blossoms for the woman who can’t form connections, and it’s interracial.
I really enjoyed this movie. It is a tense, gripping, and thoughtful study on the human condition in the face of an apocalyptic downfall of society, featuring a strong female protagonist. Only the strong survive … and the compassionate.
TSJ’s BIRD BOX Review: 8/10
BIRD BOX is based on a novel of the same name by writer Josh Malerman.
Praise for THE WAR BENEATH
“One very riveting, intelligent read!” — Readers’ Favorite
“If you like novels like The Hunt for Red October and Red Storm Rising,
you will certainly enjoy The War Beneath.” — A Thrill A Week
“If you’re here for thrills, the book will deliver.” — The Cambridge Geek
“This is a tense, gripping science fiction/thriller of which Tom Clancy might well be proud . . .
When I say it is gripping, that is the simple truth.” — Ardath Mayhar
“… a thrill ride …” — SF Crowsnest
“… if you like Clancy and le Carré with a hint of Forsyth thrown in,
you’ll love The War Beneath.” — Colonel Jonathan P. Brazee (RET),
2017 Nebula Award & 2018 Dragon Award Finalist
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