Bird Box does not live up to the expectations of its meme form

By CATE TURNER | January 31, 2019

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Richard Goldschmidt/ CC BY-3.0 Actress Sandra Bullock shines in the lead role of new Netflix movie Birdbox

Bird Box, a post-apocalyptic Netflix original starring Sandra Bullock, suffered an unfortunate fate that seems to befall more and more projects everyday: It became popular as a meme before it was respected as a film. Based off a relatively successful novel of the same name by Josh Malerman, the film set out with high hopes that were met with mediocre critic reviews. However, because of its massive internet popularity, the film did very well amongst Netflix users, and its 15 minutes of fame undoubtedly brought Bird Box the success it needed. 

If you haven’t watched the movie, think about the basic plot and characters of A Quiet Place then replace all the actors and change the concept of no speaking to no seeing. Of course, there were unique aspects to Bird Box — the immortal antagonists were not robotic killing machines but rather unidentifiable and almost invisible spirits that forced citizens to kill themselves. Bullock’s character, Malorie, had a relationship to her movie children that was more complicated than the expected trope of mother who loves children unrelentlessly. I mean, she called them Boy and Girl for most of the movie, there are clearly some deeper issues there. 

Bird Box gets its name from the fact that Malorie carries around an actual shoebox filled with birds she found at a grocery store after the initial apocalyptic disaster. The reason for the birds was truly lost on me until the end of the film: They chirped whenever the malevolent creatures were near, so people near them could close their eyes and reach safety. This aspect of the film seemed quite random, especially because it’s where the whole story got its name. Perhaps the birds serve more of an emotional or plot-driven purpose in the novel, but in the movie they really were just cute and friendly and helped out Malorie once or twice. 

I found the most interesting part of the movie to be when Malorie found herself confined to an expansive house in suburban California with a group of other survivors. Because the rest of the film was limited only to Bullock and her family in darkly lit spaces and in the face of seemingly unavoidable death, it was refreshing to see the different personalities and actors in the more lighthearted parts of the movie. 

Of course, love triumphs all, and Malorie finds herself falling in love with the only remaining survivor, Tom (Trevante Rhodes), after a lunatic goes on a killing spree inside their safe house. Another unique, while slightly convoluted, aspect of this film is that the criminally insane — there is no mention of people with other mental disorders — find beauty in the murderous entities and try to make all other survivors look at them and thus commit suicide. Somehow Malorie protects the two newborn babies, and she and Tom manage to create a life together in this isolated, impossible world. 

Something that might bother you about this plot is that the film skips from when the children are literally newborn babies to when they are four or five years old. It also skips from Malorie and Tom existing as the lone survivors in a sprawling California home, to them living in a makeshift, self-sufficient house somewhere in a forest with two healthy children. Luckily for the family, they didn’t have any concerning medical issues. 

Apparently they did have a helpful and quite unexpected knowledge of survival skills, though. But of course the audience (myself included) is quickly able to push aside these concerns. 

Again, much like A Quiet Place, the film concludes with hope. In an ending I won’t spoil here, Malorie and her family discover the light at the end of the tunnel.

I didn’t watch Bird Box because I wanted to; I felt a cultural obligation to do so. This has happened before with popular shows such as 13 Reasons Why and Riverdale, which are both problematic and/or super weird. And while I was very ready to be disappointed by Bird Box, because a movie that inspires such genuinely funny memes just shouldn’t be captivating, the film was not a waste of time as I had expected. 

It’s easy to point at unrealistic aspects of the plot and draw attention to the lack of logic, but Bird Box is about black clouds that make people commit suicide after they look at them — it’s not really a realistic concept (I hope). 

The movie didn’t change my life, and I already knew that Sandra Bullock was a great actress, but I only watched it to better understand a cultural internet phenomenon anyway. Bird Box was enjoyable, albeit a little more boring than the creators hoped, but it was good enough for me.

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