“If you look, you will die.” The latest Netflix horror original hit the streaming service in December. Bird Box, based on the 2014 novel of the same name written by Josh Malerman, is a horror thriller directed by Susanne Bier.
I’ve been excited for this adaptation for awhile now! Bird Box was my favorite book I read last year, and one of my favorite books I’ve ever read. So, obviously my expectations were high! And for me personally, Bird Box the adaptation delivered. Let’s talk about why! But first let’s talk about what this movie is all about.
Something is happening on the other side of the world - people are suddenly going mad and killing themselves in droves. No one knows what happened but it’s all over the news. Mallory’s been ignoring it because she’s pregnant and painting and quite frankly doesn’t have time for that. Jessica, her sister, shows up at Mallory’s apartment to bring her food and share the news. The two sisters head off to the hospital so Mallory can attend her check-up but as they’re leaving Mallory sees a woman smashing her head into a window before security gets involved.
But within minutes the world has erupted into chaos. The sisters flee for their lives as all around them people are committing suicide. And for some reason there’s also A LOT of cars exploding. Seems dramatic, but we’ll roll with it. Jessica’s phone starts ringing in the back seat and as Mallory turns around to find it, Jessica sees something out the window. Instantly something changes in her face and she rams the car into another, trying to kill herself. The two of them survive but as Mallory drags herself out of the wreckage, she sees Jessica purposefully step in front of an oncoming truck.
Mallory is obviously in shock and is eventually dragged into a house with some other people to find safety. And so, trapped inside a stranger’s house with a bunch of strangers, the group must figure out what the hell is doing this to everyone and how to survive.
I love love LOVE this concept. Josh Malerman did an incredible job in the book that keeps you page turning like a mad man. There’s so many great characters that you quickly get attached to, only to have them torn away from you. I think the adaptation did reasonably well with it. Sandra Bullock plays Mallory, and while she’s more severe and intense than she is in the book, it works! Sarah Paulson was perfection as Jessica, but Paulson can literally do no wrong. She could’ve played the invisible monster and still would’ve deserved an Oscar.
Trevante Rhodes plays Tom, a brave and wonderful character. I fell in love with him in the book and Rhodes really brought him to life for me. I loved the dynamic of Mallory and Tom. It was absolutely devastating when he sacrifices himself to save the kids and Mallory, I teared up quite a bit.
John Malkovich plays Douglas, who starts as our villain but in the end turns around to save everyone. He did a great job as well! “In the end there are only two types of people - the assholes and the dead.”
Other notable performances were Danielle Macdonald as Olympia, the other pregnant lady. And Lil Rey Howery as Charlie. While he’s in it only briefly, he steals each scene he’s in. Surprisingly my favorite performance was actually Tom Hollander as Gary. Gary arrives in the middle of the apocalypse weaving a story about a group of mad men and women who kidnapped him and his friends and forced them to remove their blindfolds and see the truth. Gary says he managed to escape before he had to see anything. But when he’s left alone he pulls out terrifying drawings that are clearly of the creatures out there, and begins to torment and kill the house one by one.
He was genuinely terrifying and when he’s roaming around the room where Mallory and Olympia have just given birth, you just feel dread pouring out of the screen. When he tries to grab the babies and keeps repeating, “everyone needs to see” it really cements how much power these creatures really have. His stories also show how much of a mad world it is out there now.
And of course, the creatures themselves need to be mentioned. I am incredibly glad the director decided to not show the creatures. In the book you never find out what they are, just that if you see them you are lulled into a sense of complacency and then kill yourself. In the movie they’re shown by the environment changing, shadows moving, leaves hovering in the air, trees moving. And when someone sees them, their eyes change. It’s what made the book so powerful and terrifying and I love that it carried over to the film.
Another thing I love is that the movie shows a reluctant Mother. A pregnant woman who is in this situation and unsure, she has doubts about the child she’s carrying and is the polar opposite of Olympia. We look at Olympia who is emotional, talking of baby names, and her husband. She calls herself soft. Whereas Mallory is practical and hides her emotions behind a very strong wall. Yet, when Mallory and Olympia give birth, it’s Mallory that stays strong and protects the babies, holding them to her chest. As the children grow up, Mallory refuses to name them, only calling them Boy and Girl. It isn’t until Tom points out that Mallory is refusing to let the kids dream and believe, and therefore not allowing them to live, that Mallory finally starts to accept what she’s doing. She’s been keeping them at arm's length so that if she loses them, it won’t hurt. But the beauty of life is loving and dreaming and getting hurt.
It’s a beautiful message inside a dark, dark tale.
The ending, of course, is satisfying. Mallory and the kids, now named Olympia and Tom, find themselves in a safe sanctuary which used to be a school for the blind. What they didn’t include from the book was that when the sanctuary first opened, people were forced to blind themselves to join so they’d be safe. It leaves you with one last scare for the trio you’ve grown so attached to, before finally feeling safe.
My only complaint about this movie is the length. Ya’ll know I’m a big hater of horror movies that run 2 hours or more. I really think horror movies have no business being that long. It’s hard to stay on edge and scared for that long. Bird Box falls victim to that. There were quite a few scenes that felt so unnecessary.
Overall, I really enjoyed it and it felt like a pretty satisfactory adaptation of a horror novel, which is pretty hard to do!