Bird Box: Seeing Is Believing

by Anthony Iessi on March 25, 2019

Behold: the most talked-about film of 2018, appearing right at the year’s tail-end, that has flooded your internet screens with memes and steaming hot takes. We’ve been in this new era of streaming cinema for a few years, but I’ve never seen a streaming film become such a phenomenon. I barely knew Bird Box existed a week ago, but by the end of the week, it was in my face everywhere I went. Perhaps it’s because of its mass availability. Perhaps it’s because it’s truly a groundbreaking horror classic we all didn’t see coming. Perhaps it’s because Sandra Bullock is so good in this, she’s instantly made a comeback. Perhaps it’s all of the above. Or... hear me out... perhaps it’s all just hype. But you know what, I watched it too. I submitted, I succumbed, I jumped right into the fray and turned on Bird Box. I hand it to Netflix and nearly everyone involved in the making of Bird Box for bringing everyone to the table and tuning in. So much so that it’s now being reported that 45 million subscribers streamed Bird Box within the first week of its release. That’s not a smash-hit, that’s a gold mine.

In the end, Bird Box is truly, unfortunately, just hype. A B-grade horror movie with a nice little gimmick. It just doesn’t try anything new, nor does it utilize the power of cinema in the profound, horrifying ways in the way it could be used. Many compare it to A Quiet Place, except that it replaces noise with sight. (This succinct description of Bird Box would be correct). Bird Box should be mind-blowing, and yet it settles; it takes the easiest way out. If you’ve seen any generic horror movie, you’ve seen Bird Box. Maybe not with the same budget or stars, but you’ve already seen this movie nonetheless.

A terrifying virus is sweeping the entire civilized world, and it just stepped foot in America. An epidemic of sudden mass suicides. You’ve heard of the living dead, try the living “wish I was” dead. But these folks don’t need Prozac. No, their longing for death comes from a more mystical source, a fantastical Being said to be so beautiful, it makes life itself unbearable. Thankfully, we never get to see what this being is. Chances are, if we did, we’d all be reaching for a blindfold to put on. Malorie Hayes (Bullock), a single mother who never asked or deserved any of this, is put to the test as she loses her sister to the Being and seeks shelter in a house of total strangers all looking to survive and keep their virgin eyes unscathed. It’s all a matter of who isn’t stupid or unlucky enough to die first. Malorie, through sheer badassery, makes it far enough to protect herself and two young children.

I wish this movie scared me. I wish it gripped me. But instead of preying on our own worst fears (which is what the world’s greatest horror movies have ever done), Bird Box takes a terrifying dilemma and only shows us one dimension of it. One by one, we see the characters fall victim to the accursed sight, but the viewer doesn’t feel it with them. It was as though we all were under the blindfold. The dialogue is cheesy. Indistinguishable from a Syfy variety horror movie. Similarly, the cinematography never seems to go far enough. Props to the performances by Bullock, Sarah Paulson, and even John Malkovich: they were as serious and committed as they could have been to this material. But nothing ever comes together. For many, seeing is believing, and most Netflix users have and will see Bird Box. If nothing else, a phenomenon can be worth participating in as a cultural experience. Even if the experience leaves much to be desired.