Critics haven’t been entirely convinced by Susanne Bier’s (In A Better World, Brothers) recent Netflix-distributed horror-drama starring Sandra Bullock. Bird Box has received middling critical reviews, with some claiming that it feels tediously unfocused and lacking in any physical, monstrous threat. Not to say that it hasn’t received some professional praise; Entertainment Weekly, IndieWire – and others – gave the film a favourable write-up, and perhaps saw in the film what majority audiences did.
Casual audiences seem to be loving Bird Box. Social media has been rife with discussion and dissection of its potential deeper meaning, and so many have attached their own personal meaning to it, claiming it deals with issues of racism, mental health, suicide and femininity. It is great that audiences are finding such merits within the films narrative, but as its detractors will assert, the overall package of Bier’s film isn’t helping to cement the importance of these themes, as it feels too much of a lacklustre genre hybrid to take any of its messages seriously.
It has been compared by both critics and audiences to John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place, of which is definitely the superior piece of work. Instead of not being able to make a sound, the characters surviving in Bird Box must mask their eyes with blindfolds; to see is to be targeted. The gimmick is certainly similar, except that Krasinski’s film had a physical threat that we could dread. Here, the antagonist is psychological, and exists as an invisible presence which drives those who can see to suicide. So, besides comparisons to one of the year’s most celebrated horror efforts, it still feels strongly reminiscent of yet another piece of work.
A sequence in the first act of the film addresses the threat: the overwhelming urge to commit suicide. The imagery on display here hearkens back to M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening, which also dealt with the same subject matter. Although people have drawn their own conclusions, arguing that there is a depth to Bird Box, both films capture the concept in goofy ways. It’s hard to take too seriously, no matter the message they wished to convey, and the results just come across as awkward and – at worst – laughable.
Themes are always essential, especially when timely, but the execution has to be there. For the most part, Bird Box feels like the poorly fleshed out sci-fi concept we saw Shyamalan crash and burn with in 2008, but one that heavily relies on the social climate to be taken more seriously than it deserves.