Hello ghosts and ghouls!
If none of you are living under a rock, then I am sure that you’ve heard of the Netflix film Bird Box. When I heard of it coming out, I was rather pleased because I had just recently read the novel and was interested to see how it was going to be adapted by Netflix into a film. Beware: there be spoilers ahead!
Bird Box was originally published in 2014 and is the debut novel by writer and singer Josh Malerman. The book is partially told in flashbacks and events that occur in three time periods throughout the life of the protagonist.
The movie came out in December of 2018 and was adapted to film by Susanne Bier (director) and Eric Heisserer (writer.)
The novel and the film follow a similar plot. The world notices an uptick in suicides, starting in Russia. It soon spreads to the States. The main character, Malorie, has found out she is pregnant and eventually escapes the epidemic by hiding in a house with other survivors. During the course of the story, the survivors must go out to collect food and decide whether or not to welcome other survivors into their home. The threat of the epidemic appears in the form of some thing or things that, when seen, causes the person to go insane and kill themselves. Neither in the novel nor the film are these entities shown or described.
Eventually all inhabitants of the house are killed except for Malorie and two children. Malorie decides she must risk taking the children out onto the river to reach a haven she’s heard about over the radio. All three must retain blindfolds to protect themselves from the threat. Eventually they do reach the haven, which proves to be a school for the blind… explaining how this pack of people survived so successfully for so long after the initial outbreak.
Overall, I thought the movie started out very well. Sandra Bullock and her fellow actors/actresses were well suited for their parts. In the movie, they use car sensors technology as a way to drive up tension in one scene which, while similar to the book, was very unique in its own way.
However, they really lost me when they forced the whole “woman needs to confess motherly affection in order to save child” idea.
In the book, Malorie (played by Bullock in the film) is very strict with the children (named Boy and Girl.) She is described as having trained them from infancy to wake up with their eyes closed (she would wake them and if they opened their eyes, she would slap them – woowhee.) She trained them extensively in the identification of sounds and their origins so the children could navigate solely through the use of their auditory senses. This is because the protagonist knew she would eventually take them on the river and she would need them to help her navigate.
There is no overly mushy idea of having to be “soft and motherly.” Malorie trains the children because she needs them to obey her in order to survive. On the river, the children do their duties. There is no running off into the woods and hiding from mommy because the little girl needs love in order to behave. The children listen to Malorie and they help her navigate the river.
The film frustrated me so much in this regard. They kept the male love interest to contrast Bullock’s performance as the stern mother figure. They foreshadow how she needs to “learn to love.” She even fights off an entity by confessing her love for Girl and that was the only way for the girl to survive. Barf.
In my eyes, this weakened all three characters. It made the protagonist dependent on a male character to teach her how to parent and love. It weakened the children by making them utterly stupid and lacking in basic self-preservation.
Next was the introduction of Gary. He was the guy who appears late in the film and book, begging for sanctuary. In the film, it turns out he has looked at the entities and decides everyone needs to look at them. There is a strange continuity issue to me because all the people who look at the entities have messed up eyes in the film but his aren’t revealed to be so until after the big “twist.” I understand they were trying to hide the twist but it really didn’t make sense. There was also the awkward issue of Malorie needing to be saved by the big strong man from Gary when she is lying helpless with the babies.
In the novel, Gary is introduced and he tells them that he had to leave the house he was living in because of a guy named Frank. Frank apparently thought that the entities were not there to harm people and you only went insane if you were weak-minded. Gary tells everyone that one day, Frank left after leaving the doors open and tearing down the window drapes, exposing everyone to the creatures. Malorie figures out that Gary is probably Frank. Everyone agrees to evict Gary, except one of the housemates secrets him into the cellar to protect him. When Malorie and Olympia (the other pregnant woman) go into labour, Gary convinces that other housemate to take down all the window drapes, which causes the massacre. He has no interest in the children and just leaves the rest to their madness and death. Malorie only survives because she hides under a blanket with the babies until everyone had killed themselves, leaving her to clean up and take care of two infants completely alone.
The other big issue I found was that the film truly dumbed down the menace of the invisible entities that haunt the abandoned cities of Earth. They make it so these things just rush around, hunting whatever they can find, chasing them through the forest. These entities lack intelligence and meaning. In the novel, it’s different. At one point, Malorie is on the river and is approached by an entity. The thing is intelligent and shows it by reaching out and attempting to lift Malorie’s blindfold. She begs it to just leave them alone, the entity pauses, and it leaves. This shows intelligence and understanding, which makes it so much darker.
It makes you wonder: did these creatures come from outer space, from some unknown place under the waves? Did they come to the surface and cause such widespread death and destruction by accident? Were they unaware of what their appearance could drive other beings to do? It’s tragic, it’s mysterious, it makes me want to learn more.
So, while the Netflix film made for an okay way to spend a couple of hours, it doesn’t stand up to a comparison to the novel.
Overall, I would give the novel an 8/10 and the film a 5/10.
You might think a 5 is pretty harsh, but I offer you the below as proof — even Bullock is cringing in it.
Just look at her!
What did you think of the novel and the film? Let me know in the comments below!
x P.L. McMillan