Skip to main content

It shall cleanse the world! Everyone must look. Everyone must look.

Bird Box
(2018)

(SPOILERS) 45 million viewers can’t be wrong. Right? What’s more interesting about Netlfix’s announcement of the multitudes flocking to see Sandy Buttocks shield her eyes from the apocalypse is that previous big events on their part were accompanied by no such swagger. So I guess Bright or Adam Sandler’s latest just didn’t cut it to the same magnitude? Doubtless the streaming giant will be commissioning more end-of-the-world fare tout suite. Possibly starring Will Smith and Adam Sandler, together at last. The success of The Walking Dead made it incredibly obvious, if that was even necessary, that there are huge potential audiences for the inevitable collapse of civilisation, provided it’s occurring while ensconced in one’s living room, but also that it gets stale quite quickly if you don’t have anything really distinctive to throw into the mix. Bird Box is well made and acted, but all it does is remind you of other, often better, movies of its ilk.


Based on Josh Malerman’s 2014 novel of the same name, it’s notable that the author himself was concerned about post-apocalyptic comparisons that might be drawn with The Road and The Happening when he first thrashed it out. And they’re just the tip of the “We’re all doomed” iceberg. As usual with these scenarios, rhyme or reason for the outbreak or affliction isn’t eventually imparted; it just is. Which can be a boon or a bust, depending on how fast and loose you choose to be with the rules of your world. In Malerman’s case, and the adaptation by Eric Heisserer (Arrival), I found them increasingly tenuous. If your MacGuffin turns out to be a magic wand, you’re sure to lose goodwill. 


So the nebulous creatures – real but intangible Lovecraftian demons, Gaia fighting back indiscriminately since she’s taking the fauna with her, mass hysteria or “a classic biowarfare signature”; take your pick – not only ply those who see them with visions of the dead and inspire them to suicide, but they also handily go to work on the insane, who rather than off themselves obligingly and uniformly become zealots inspired to open the eyes of those resisting such enlightenment (because all mad people are an amorphous whole). In pursuing this mission, as we discover, there’s no end to the ingenuity and acumen displayed, from the simple luring of river travellers, to driving around in cars in packs, to hatching such nefarious schemes as posing as an escapee from others like them (Tom Hollander’s Gary). It’s cumulatively rather silly, unfortunately – certainly, I began to lose patience with the picture following Gary’s arrival, and Hollander is usually a massive boon to anything. I can only assume that, when applied to the animal kingdom, rabid dogs are now intent on digging up as many moles as possible in order to force them to see the light.


It’s much better to keep these things simple, particularly when your characters are actively interrogating the rule book (digitised images are no defence, but GPS in a blacked-out car is fine). The Walking Dead, notably, opted not to explain the outbreak of flesh-eating undead, ultimately to its detriment as it’s stuck on a perpetual reset arc that renders its serialised nature void (I gave up after Season 5). Bird Box utilises numerous signatures from the zombie genre, most notably holed-up survivors whose numbers are whittled down by being really fucking stupid; the opening also recalls, on a less exhausting level, the mayhem of the outbreak in Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake (those first twenty minutes are still the director’s finest third of an hour). 


It also recalls, inevitably, A Quiet Place in its focus on one of the senses as a source of susceptibility (another movie that breaks down under the weight of its rules, but which is ultimately more satisfying by virtue of sustained breathlessness). We’ve even had an apocalyptic sight-impaired movie, in 2008’s Blindness, although that one played up the sociological commentary to the point of nausea.


Heisserer appears to have been fairly faithful to Malerman’s novel, so one might legitimately argue the faults are with the source material. At one point, a budding writer –“Another novel I won’t have to read” says Malkovich in full acidic mode, upon his demise – warns that the cast are in the endgame (“Humanity has been judged and found guilty”), which unfortunately tends to be enough for his kind of thing. He has added a love story between Bullock’s pregnant Malorie and Trevante Rhodes’ Tom, which also leads to the latter getting a de rigueur, kick-ass heroic death taking out a handful of the insane as Malorie flees. 


One might argue their romance underlines the emotional pulse of the picture, Malorie doing whatever she must to protect her children (Boy and Girl) – some commentaries have suggested she’s embracing blind faith to get there, but I’d liketo hope that’s a little too on the nose to have been on the mind of anyone involved – right down to the atypically upbeat ending (with Pruitt Taylor Vince as a nice guy!) Unfortunately, the whole is so self-serious and “important” that it exposes itself to ridicule when Malorie embarks on a blindfold rapids ride like someone dared to risk life and limb in Jackass (you can readily imagine Malerman going “Now, what would be incredibly difficult for a blind person to navigate, to the point only a complete idiot would try it?”)


Bullock, a sprightly 54 and apparently all hopped-up on botox (will they never learn?), more than commands in the lead role, lent capable support by the likes of Malkovich, Rosa Salazar (the upcoming Alita: Battle Angel), BD Wong and Jacki Weaver. Bullock and Sarah Paulson are particularly good as sisters, so it’s a shame they’re together so briefly. Director Susann Bier’s never less than accomplished either (although, she does seem to use that one blindfold POV shot again and again and again), riding high on the success of The Night Manager. Nevertheless, the self-importance of Bird Box defeats it in the end. It behaves as if it’s the first movie with a take on this kind of material, when really, it’s just the fairly meek-and-mild latest. I actually rather wish it had brandished an accompanying sense of schlocky fun; I’d sooner The Happening’s patent absurdity over this any day.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

Anything can happen in Little Storping. Anything at all.

The Avengers 2.22: Murdersville
Brian Clemens' witty take on village life gone bad is one of the highlights of the fifth season. Inspired by Bad Day at Black Rock, one wonders how much Murdersville's premise of unsettling impulses lurking beneath an idyllic surface were set to influence both Straw Dogs and The Wicker Mana few years later (one could also suggest it premeditates the brand of backwoods horrors soon to be found in American cinema from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper).

The protocol actually says that most Tersies will say this has to be a dream.

Jupiter Ascending (2015)
(SPOILERS) The Wachowski siblings’ wildly patchy career continues apace. They bespoiled a great thing with The Matrix sequels (I liked the first, not the second), misfired with Speed Racer (bubble-gum visuals aside, hijinks and comedy ain’t their forte) and recently delivered the Marmite Sense8 for Netflix (I was somewhere in between on it). Their only slam-dunk since The Matrix put them on the movie map is Cloud Atlas, and even that’s a case of rising above its limitations (mostly prosthetic-based). Jupiter Ascending, their latest cinema outing and first stab at space opera, elevates their lesser works by default, however. It manages to be tone deaf in all the areas that count, and sadly fetches up at the bottom of their filmography pile.

This is a case where the roundly damning verdicts have sadly been largely on the ball. What’s most baffling about the picture is that, after a reasonably engaging set-up, it determinedly bores the pants off you. I haven’t enco…

James Bond. You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season.

Moonraker (1979)
Depending upon your disposition, and quite possibly age, Moonraker is either the Bond film that finally jumped the shark or the one that is most gloriously redolent of Roger Moore’s knowing take on the character. Many Bond aficionados will no doubt utter its name with thinly disguised contempt, just as they will extol with gravity how Timothy Dalton represented a masterful return to the core values of the series. If you regard For Your Eyes Only as a refreshing return to basics after the excesses of the previous two entries, and particularly the space opera grandstanding of this one, it’s probably fair to say you don’t much like Roger Moore’s take on Bond.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991)
(SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

My dear, sweet brother Numsie!

The Golden Child (1986)
Post-Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy could have filmed himself washing the dishes and it would have been a huge hit. Which might not have been a bad idea, since he chose to make this misconceived stinker.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.