Bird Box (Susanne Bier, 2018)

Spoilers ahead.

A film with a strong allegory adds that extra point of intrigue that shows just how well constructed the story was, visually and narratively. Unfortunately, Bird Box seems to want to include an allegory, but executed it in a way which left me disappointed. The film flips between present-day and flashbacks, five years separating the two storylines which converge together during the final scenes of the laborious 2 hour long film. The first moments introduce Malorie (Sandra Bullock), aggressively instructing two children not to take their blindfolds off as they prepare to go on an intense journey down a river. The flashbacks reveal that a devastatingly evil entity (or entitieswe never really find out) forces people to commit suicide if they may witness this being. The pregnant Malorie finds shelter in a large house with all the comforts she and the eight other strangers would need to survive in the absolute calamity, figuring out that if they lock the doors, cover the windows, don’t look outside – they’re fine.

Bullock’s character is shown to be a tough woman, constantly fighting for survival and showcasing her skills with a gun, but Malorie in general is fairly unlikable. Or at least, not exactly the most emotionally available person in the film.This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it means her character ‘redemption’, or the conclusion to her character arc, needs to have that answer as to whether or not she achieved or fixed that problem she was having that was stated as the theme in the beginning – i.e. what the maternity doctor told Malorie to do in the beginning. Her maternity doctor shows up both at the beginning, telling her during an ultrasound that she must fall into the role of the mother, and again in the final moments after the trio have reached the safe zone, witnessing Malorie’s transformation in the form of naming the two children.

This was the biggest problem for me about Bird Box – Malorie’s character arc. In the flashbacks, we learn that a pregnant Malorie feels she will be unable to emotionlly connect with her child, highlighted by the other pregnant woman of the film Olympia (Danielle Macdonald) who seems overjoyed yet simulatensouly worried about her baby girl. Clearly Malorie is more closed off in character, which stops her parenting the children (as she ends up looking after both her son and Olympia’s daughter) in the way typically expected from a person in a maternal role – there is no empathy or affection. Ending up with two babies to look after with the help of the only other survivor from the star-studded cast, Tom (Trevante Rhodes from the brilliant Moonlight), after a massacre in the house of survivors. The film then jumps forward once again to conclude its explanation of the beginning of the monster, and show how Malorie has been getting on with her parental role. After Tom sacrifices himself to save Malorie and the children, the film can focus on exploring Malorie’s single parent role which still does not contain any sort of empathy or expected behaviour from motherhood. With the promise of character growth from past-Malorie’s absolute lack of excitement or preparation to be pregnant or a mother, and from her reluctance to even give birth when her water breaks back at the house, we get to see her relationship with the children and hopefully – finally – sympathise to the two-dimensional character. It’s fine she wasn’t ready to be a mother, that’s what the whole film has been drawing too; we get to see her understand what motherhood is really about after fighting to protect her own son and someone else’s daughter. A nice allegory for the struggle and pressure of maternal roles in reality. Instead, it’s been five years and she’s named the children ‘Boy’ and ‘Girl’ (a nice nod to McCarthy’s The Road) and she appears to be biased towards her own son as it’s implied she might sacrifice the safety of Girl during their trip down the water rapids to the safe zone. Even when she finally names them, I found it hard to feel congratulatory towards Malorie’s accomplishment.

Another glaring problem was the lack of interaction Malorie had with her son. To have her pregnancy there to add extra weight to her need for survival, and as the thing to make her overcome her own character issues, means there should have been a more explicit connection (whether good or bad) between mother and child, post-pregnancy. Understandably, the daughter from the other mother was also plot point to allow Malorie to fall into her role as a mother, but the film just never could choose how to go about concluding that plot point. Her son ended up just being there, not adding anything to Malorie or the story.

Bird Box seems to want tto mix the horror genre with an allegory for motherhood (as together they can communicate the reality of maternity), expressed through Malorie’s character development and emotional journey. Malorie doesn’t represent all the connotations of being a mother, but the final scene shows her coming to terms with her life just five years after the birth of the children. But I didn’t care. Not only did every character in this film get an obvious lack of interesting personality or development, but the main character also gets the same treatment (or at least trying but not achieveing to give her character growth). This leaves Bird Box without any characters for the audience to really root for, besides Tom who really only gets away with this because of Rhode’s natural charisma. I did enjoy John Malkovich as the grumpy paranoid Douglas, as every horror film needs that one mistrusting guy that actually ends up being right, and with that I can say that the acting was better than mediocre. Bullock genuinely performs well, utilizing her rom-com role experiences to fulfil the B story of her romance with Rhode’s character. As a horror film, Bird Box could have done better by strengthening their lacking allegory for motherhood and really exploring the idea further. I feel this would have intensified the connection between audience and character, alongside bettering Malorie’s character in general, overall adding even more terror and intrigue to the film.

5/10

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