By Webster Tilton

Badly overhyped but still ok.

When a movie inspires a behavioral meme, my usual instinct is to hate it on principal. But I’ve been wrong before, so I watched Bird Box on the recommendation of a friend.

My Verdict: In spite of a painfully bad opening 30 minutes full of forced plot points and clichés, the movie is rescued by its 2 second half which focuses on fewer characters and it isn’t bogged down with teaching the audience what the monsters do; making anyone who sees them kill themselves.

I realize that fiction can’t function without some cooperation from the audience. And this requires more than just willing suspension of disbelief. We also have to make a few allowances for convenient events that are necessary to get the plot in gear, and we have to understand that perfect consistency with the movie’s internal logic is difficult to achieve.

That being said, the first act of this movie was so badly botched that I almost turned it off. I was shouting “Oh c’mon, really!?” at regular intervals. The story is loaded with insulting stretches of plausibility. Example: In spite of living near San Francisco and having a TV and (presumably) phone, the main character Malorie has to actually be told by her sister that mass suicides in the tens of thousands are spreading across Russia and eastern Europe. Why? Well, it’s explicitly stated that she’s an artist who rarely leaves the house and that her sister gets her groceries for her, and that she avoids calling their mother. Very importantly, during this conversation Malorie writes off the reports as possibly bogus because they’re from Russia (fake news).

Five minutes later Malorie sees one person banging her head on a wall in a hospital (you know, where a lot of sick people go) and instantly concludes that “whatever it is that’s making people crazy in Russia is here now”, and her sister believes her. Think I’m being too harsh? Imagine it’s 1994 and you tell an ignorant friend that there’s a genocide going on in Rwanda. Her reaction: ‘it’s fake news’. Five minutes later she sees one person get mugged in an alley (you know, where a lot of muggings happen). Then she runs to you and says, ‘the genocide in Rwanda is here now!’ Do you (a) agree with her and head for the nearest bunker or (b) ask her ‘What the heck are you talking about?’

Malorie’s transition from indifferent doubt to absolute certainty is so jarring and difficult to accept that I had to watch it three or four times to make sure I wasn’t missing something. There are also some eye-roll-provoking thriller movie clichés. On not one but two occasions a black guy sacrifices himself to save the rest of the (mostly) white cast.

The movie’s other major sin is to reduce the monsters to a ‘move the plot forward’ button by ignoring their own rules for the sake of convenience. They’re all over the place, and at one point it’s established that even seeing them on a computer screen will kill you (a necessary scene or everyone would just strap a phone to their face). But, the main characters have watch TV broadcasts of mass suicides and riots and they’re all fine. It’s not impossible to contrive an excuse for why this works but you shouldn’t need to. Worse still is when the survivors are betrayed by someone who is, at a minimum, bending the rules into a pretzel.

The movie is saved by its excellent acting and well-crafted atmosphere, but I can’t shake the feeling there would have been a lot more viewer backlash if it’d cost $11 per person to go and watch it. People are a lot more forgiving when the movie feels like it’s free because the price of admission is auto-charged to their credit card once a month without them noticing or caring.

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