Bird Box, a new Netflix level?

Dear Reader, you may remember that I wrote recently an article for this very publication discussing A Quiet Place and how it shows numerous lessons for the horror genre. Last year, Netflix gave us Bird Box, which bears a notable similarity to A Quiet Place in basic premise: a post-apocalyptic setting wherein one of our basic senses is denied to us.

For those who don’t know, Bird Box centres around a woman called Malorie, who is attempting to travel down a river to get herself and her two children to a safe zone after the world has been destroyed by creatures who can appear as someone’s worst fear, driving them to kill themselves.

Despite what I’m going to say later, Bird Box is not bad. It is good and I highly recommend you watch it. However, it lacks the visceral thrill and the tension of A Quiet Place, and there’s a couple of reasons why.

The first is its length. A Quiet Place goes by quickly. There is a key point to make about the structure of tension without a narrative. Quite simply, tension cannot go on forever. It is a bad idea as, without resolution, tension can eventually wear the audience very thin and you lose… Bird Box is overlong and thus loses a great deal of tension.

The other huge problem and the far bigger one is the structure of the story. A Quiet Place has a remarkably simple structure which allows easy investment within the narrative, which in turn allows for the natural exploration and building of terror. Even in the quiet (pun) moments, the film is still tense. However, the structure of Bird Box is all over the place as the film is explored through a series of flashbacks to the first time Malorie first experienced the creatures. She remembers how a small group of survivors who rescued her ended up dying, and how she ended up in the particular predicament we find her in at the start of the film. This is not inexpertly done and does indeed serve to assist in developing Malorie’s character. However, it makes for a strange structure for the film and that’s the problem. It makes the film less intriguing because the jumping around, paired with the flashbacks, lack any tension since you know all of these characters are going to die. 

Speaking of characters, Bird Box has a larger cast and most of them are destined to die, meaning that the film either struggles to, even neglects to, properly develop them. A Quiet Place, even with the characters who die, does make a token effort to develop them and make you care. I am fine with ‘determined to die’ characters, provided they’re well developed and the film lacks this, simply suffering from a cast too large for the amount of characterisation the story provides. 

Both the films discussed herein are good and I recommend both of them. For all the faults of Bird Box, it still is incredibly tense (particularly a certain scene on the river wherein Malorie and the kids meet a certain someone) and has some interesting characters. Sandra Bullock and Trevante Rhodes carry a lot of this film. The ending scene, whilst a tad convenient, is genuinely heartwarming and actually a bit clever. But it does not hold up to A Quiet Place I do, however, recommend Bird Box and enjoyed it a great deal. Watch it, but don’t expect something on the level of A Quiet Place.

by Michael Fraser


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