Why Bird Box Is A Great Horror Flick
Great art asks questions and lets the audience come up with the answers.
I loved Hereditary. Donnie Smith, my brilliant friend in L.A., hated it. The film has that love it/hate it vibe pretty much across the board. I believe that it’s the ending. People were way into the dread and the scares and the general direction things were going. They loved the performances. They hated the ending because it explained the sacrificial lamb from the perspective of the lamb concept with a defined monster — a demon. Like Stephen King’s IT, where Pennywise turns out to be a big fucking spider, which sucks balls, the build up followed with disappointment because it was more fun to theorize what what causing all the mayhem rather than have it told to them poorly.
I loved Get Out. I think everyone on the planet loved Get Out. Rather than have the cause for the scares be obfuscated, however, the monsters of Get Out are obvious. It’s white people. Not too much of a strain on the imagination and no big surprises once you’ve figured it out, which is almost the very moment they introduce the parents.
I’d argue that neither film fits in the genre as one of the best because the best horror films are allegories that can be spun in several directions. No answer to the question “Who are the Monsters?” is given.
I remember clearly when I first saw The Blair Witch Project.
A friend of mine had just been on a trip to Los Angeles. He was living in an old porn studio in Edgewater, in a back room, and invited my wife and I to come over and watch this VHS copy of a documentary he had been given while there. I didn’t know anything about the film because the tape was part of the viral marketing campaign and it hadn’t been released yet.
Jen and I headed over. His apartment was in the back on the second floor. We walked up the inlet stairs into what was a cobweb infused dark room filled with old film equipment. In the light, I imagine it would be fine — just clutter — but in the dark, it was ominous and a little weird.
We sat down, cracked some beers and he put the VHS copy in the machine. The television was small, maybe 20-inches, and we watched this bizarre thing, and we freaked out just a little. The movie provided no explanation for what happened and it felt real. Walking through that dark chaos to get to our car on the street after midnight was fucking skin-crawling. While the zeitgeist of the movie is the gimmick of the fake documentary style, what sticks with me is that I still don’t know what happened to the protagonists. The film refuses to answer the questions it poses.
Night of the Living Dead is the first zombie movie, but I’ve read a billion think pieces that suppose the zombies are a stand-in for the Vietnam War, racism, consumerism, conformism — the list is long and fun and forces a repeated viewing if you are really into getting in the intellectual weeds of these sorts of films. I enjoy The Walking Dead but not because of the zombies. The Walking Dead uses zombies as an apocalyptic endgame to explore the real monsters: us. How societies are organized, what motivates democracy or totalitarianism is all in the journey of Rick and his band of survivors.
Godzilla is about WWII or our fascination with the atom bomb or the environment. Dracula is about sex or disease or the buttoned up morality of the Victorians. Videodrome is about the fears of the (at the time) new world of videotape, the pernicious dark corners of technology, or just a generalized anxiety of Debra Harry. The Mist isn’t about the monsters flying through the fog but about the monsters we become when faced with an unexplained horror (which could be spun into an argument that the mist is the internet, yeah?).
The list can go on forever but the essential point is that the best of the horror genre refuse to define exactly what the monster terrorizing the flawed humans is and allows the viewer to play the game. M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs is not a bad movie until it is discovered that you defeat the aliens with water and then the whole feels like a waste of the energy enjoying the scares. He answers the question and we hate it.
Bird Box is completely open to debate.
I watched it at my folks’ house over the holidays. There had been so much Faceborg squawk about it, I kind of had to sit down and subject myself to it. I loved it. I loved the question of what the monsters were, I loved Sandra Bullock playing a wholly unlikeable but understandable character, I loved Malkovich playing a wholly unlikeable but understandable character. I loved the immediacy, the ideas that what people were seeing that caused them to either kill themselves or become cultish believers forcing it on others were very personal. Christ, I even loved the concept behind the title.
What I loved the most was this:
“If you haven’t seen or read the viral social media discussions of the Netflix thriller Bird Box, you’re missing one of the greatest race allegory movies that has ever been released in the last part of December 2018. It’s about how white people suddenly realize racism is spreading across the world and they can only escape its wrath if they refuse to acknowledge it because...”
“The monsters of Bird Box are social media. Seriously.
Think of Bird Box as a new entry into the old-fashioned 1950s monster movie genre, but instead of the midcentury fears about the Cold War, nuclear weapons, and communism we’re exploring the New Cold War and fears of what social media is doing to our brains. By putting on the blindfolds, the characters of Bird Box are protected from the monsters, which are actually the influences of social media.”
“Based on the fact that the entities seem to have supernatural knowledge of people's weaknesses (they know to call out to Malorie in her sister's voice, and in Tom's), and Gary's drawings of them, Charlie's theory that the monsters are demonic in nature seems pretty sound. This is also reinforced by the fact that birds are able to sense their presence, since in many mythologies, cultures and religions birds are associated with psychopomps — spirits that guide people from the land of the living to the land of the dead.”
Are the monsters an allegory for racism? Maybe. Maybe not. But watching the film with that lens gives the argument merit. It isn’t what I saw but I completely dig the perspective, and it makes me re-see the whole experience in a different way. Are the monsters a metaphor for social media? Could be. Whether or not I am compelled to believe that argument, it’s awesome that there are enough clues in the film that can be interpreted that way to make it credible and fun.
I understand our current need for answers and I understand our almost mania for those answers to conform to our political angst. We want movies like Get Out to justify our outrage further. The best films of the horror genre don’t give us answers. That’s why we keep mining the zombie trope, and the giant atomic monster trope, and the fear of technology that was started by Mary Shelley endures in films like every fucking Jurassic Park.
Great Art asks questions and lets the audience come up with the answers.