Film Review: Bird Box

Spoiler Warning: There will be some. No, I’m not going to talk about the CGI birds.

Still taken from film.

This is the second part of my blog posts about Bird Box, the post-apocalyptic / Dystopian novel by Josh Malerman and the Netflix adaptation of the same name. In Bird Box, characters are not allowed to see, otherwise they will commit suicide or attempt to hurt themselves, and so must navigate the world blindfolded.

When thinking about the Netflix adaptation of Bird Box, I don’t want to whine that everything in the film didn’t match everything in the book. Altering small details in an adaptation doesn’t matter to me. However, there were some drastic changes made to Bird Box for its adaptation that altered the entire narrative and – I’d argue – made it worse.

Firstly, in the novel, Malorie’s sister dies after a period of time once the crisis has hit. At this point, Malorie and her sister have already been trapped in their house for a while, and so have adapted to survive in a world where sight is dangerous. Following her sister’s death, a pregnant Malorie is forced to seek new shelter, as suddenly she is left alone and vulnerable, and needs someone to help her with the birth. This all means that Malorie’s sister’s death is saddening and impactful, because the reader has had time to become familiar with her, and sympathise with Malorie’s loss of a family member and her loss of the family home. Malorie’s sister’s death is also a catalyst which pushes Malorie to be strong and brave, taking a risk to ensure the survival of her baby. In the film, Malorie’s sister dies almost instantly in a car collision. Malorie then sees a house nearby and seeks refuge. This does not create anywhere near as much impact. The audience barely spends any time with Malorie’s sister before she dies, and Malorie herself is little affected apart from being somewhat mopey when she arrives at the house. This change in the narrative hardly seems to benefit the film at all, and makes me wonder why they decided to change it.

Secondly, the entire premise of Bird Box was sadly undermined in the film adaptation because characters automatically removed their blindfolds when they were inside, assuming themselves to be safe. However, the characters themselves demonstrate awareness that the creatures can get inside buildings. This begs the question: How can characters guarantee somewhere is safe, without looking, simply because it is inside? This was particularly irksome when they came across new locations, such as a supermarket or empty house to raid. Malorie also does this – yanking her blindfold off the minute she steps inside a room when seeking shelter for the children, when there is no guarantee that there isn’t a creature inside waiting. This was a foolish thing to overlook – Malorie from the novel would never do this, especially when the lives of Girl and Boy would be put at risk.

Still taken from film.
Still taken from film.

Thirdly, in the film, Boy and Girl are frustratingly disobedient. In the book, Malorie trains the children from birth navigate the world with their eyes closed – they even wake up with their eyes closed. The children obey her every command perfectly, understanding how serious it is that they do what she says. Admittedly, Malorie’s regimented, strict, protectiveness over Boy and Girl was carried over into the film well, as I thought Sandra Bullock was a good representation of Malorie’s character. However, though Malorie regularly shouts and demands they follow her instructions, Boy and Girl are continuously disobeying, wandering off, getting lost, and almost take their blindfolds off as a consequence. Whilst this scene is meant to “increase the tension” of the film, it would never have happened in the book because the children were well-taught to obey Malorie’s every word, at all times, regardless. This directly undermines the emphasis the film places on Malorie’s regular instructions to Boy and Girl, and makes Malorie’s strict personality redundant.

Still taken from film.

Finally, there is another drastic change in the film adaptation.  In the novel, once they are on the river, Malorie knows a time is coming when she must look – only for a second – because the river will fork and she must be able to see in order to steer. This is another example of Malorie making a decision which, though it could be potentially dangerous for her, would ensure the children have a chance to reach safety. This parallels Malorie’s decision to leave the house following the death of her sister, as easy and as comfortable as it would have been for her to stay. Ultimately, these two events test Malorie’s bravery and strength, and her determination as a mother. However, in the film, Malorie announces that they are approaching rapids, and one of the children must look, in order to navigate and shout directions. Then, in a “noble” act of love, Malorie decides no-one will look, deciding she will not risk the life of Boy or Girl. This decision is meant to be seen as honourable and brave, and yet it comes across as foolhardy and dangerous. As a result, all three of them nearly drown after being thrown about on the rapids. This does not foreground bravery or present Malorie as a strong mother figure, as the scene does in the novel.

To sum up, these are four key problems with the Netflix adaptation of Bird Box that have arisen simply from unnecessarily changing the source material.

An Aside: In a world where to look means to die, I would expect characters to be more proactive in blocking sources of daylight. In the book, every window is covered with blinds, towels, newspaper, tape – anything to stop a fraction of light getting inside. In the film, the blinds are barely pulled shut and all the curtains are made from lightweight, thin, pale fabric. Admittedly, this gives the film an arguably “aesthetic” pale colour palette. Yet, this is just another element of the film which has been overlooked, and seemingly undermines the entire premise of Bird Box before it has even properly begun.

Still taken from film.

Unfortunately, after enjoying the book so much, I was left disappointed by the film adaptation. If you’d still like to experience the story of Bird Box, I’d recommend you read the book instead.

– Judith

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Book Review: Bird Box

Still taken from film. 

This blog post may be a little overdue, after the recent criticism and the seemingly never-ending memes that were circulated about Netflix’s film adaptation of Bird Box, a post-apocalyptic / Dystopian novel by Josh Malerman.

The film adaption was released on Netflix in December 2018, directed by Susanne Bier.  However, I’d seen Bird Box in bookshops and had been keen to read it for a while. The tagline particularly caught my eye:

If you’ve seen what’s out there … it’s already too late.

So, before I even knew there was a Bird Box adaptation, I read the novel and really enjoyed it.

It is similar in style to The Road by Cormac McCarthy. The children, Girl and Boy, are nameless. Short sentences and capital letters are used to increase the tension. Furthermore, Bird Box is primarily concerned with family, and the survival of Malorie and the two children in her care.

The book is also similar to the fantastic film A Quiet Place; Bird Box was published in 2014 and A Quiet Place wasn’t released until 2018, so the criticism that Bird Box simply copied John Krasinski’s fantastic idea is an ill-founded one, I think. Unlike A Quiet Place, in which the characters are not allowed to make noise, the characters in Bird Box are not allowed to see, otherwise they will commit suicide or attempt to hurt themselves.

Bird Box has conventional Dystopian elements, such as focusing on a group of survivors working together to scavenge for supplies, find safe shelter, and protect one another from danger.

I liked the structure of the book and the use of alternate chapters. The chapters alternated between Malorie’s current life with Boy and Girl, as they try to reach the river and sail to safety, and Malorie’s past life, as the crisis hit and she found out she was pregnant.

The use of first-person narration was incredibly immersive; I felt like I was directly inside Malorie’s head at all times, experiencing her thoughts and feelings. It was scary to “see” the world from her perspective – to know there could be a creature in your house at any point, lurking behind you, watching you, trying to entice you, and yet you have to resist the urge to look.

I also liked that no clear explanation was offered to what the creatures are, where the creatures came from – or even if there are any creatures. Nobody can prove their existence because nobody can ever look. Furthermore, this deliberate ambiguity is more effective than being confronted with a grotesque monster, as the fear of the unknown is arguably more gripping.

All in all, I was very pleased with Bird Box and would recommend. When I learnt there was a Netflix adaptation, I was keen to watch it.

If you’d like to see what I thought of the Netflix adaptation, come back next week to find out!

– Judith

Book Review: The Passion of New Eve

First published in 1977, The Passion of New Eve by Angela Carter is an interesting book (albeit an odd book).

The book is set in dystopian America (isn’t everything?), where a civil war has broken out between groups of people who differ in either gender, race, or politics. The main character, Evelyn, travels to New York City and begins a meaningless sexual relationship with a woman named Leilah. Evelyn abandons Leilah and escapes into the desert, where he is kidnapped by The Mother, a cult leader who wants to surgically transform everyone into women. Evelyn then becomes Eve as he is forcibly changed into a woman. The book follows Evelyn / Eve  as they struggle to understand their new assigned gender identity.

Essentially, a new woman is formed from man and called Eve. As tends to be the case with Carter, this is a not-so-subtle exploration of sexuality, gender roles and feminism.

The Passion of New Eve is clearly and deliberately meant to spark debates about sex and gender. For example, in the case of Evelyn / Eve, the book implies that one is not necessarily born a woman but becomes a woman by learning about femininity through culture and society. The book also suggests femininity is an illusion, which can be performed with the right appearance and the right body parts.

I liked the morbid and grotesque scenes, such as when Evelyn is kidnapped on two separate occasions by two separate cults. The cults’ behaviours and attitudes were horrible and frightening and I think authors’ uses of cults are an interesting part of the Dystopian tradition. Personally, I think her ability to write creepy and horrible things is where Carter excels.

Whilst I liked these Dystopian parts, there were other bits of the book I didn’t understand in the slightest.

It gets weird towards the end – there’s talk of time and consciousness and the self and identity and it’s all just a bit confusing. A snippet from the Wikipedia plot summary says:

‘Lilith tells Eve she must go and meet The Mother and pushes her into a cleft in the rocks that metamorphoses into the uterus of time. Eve progresses through the increasingly deep and warm subterranean rock pools to her rebirth.’

What?

Although The Passion of New Eve isn’t the weirdest book I’ve ever read, it’s not exactly completely normal either.

So far, every Angela Carter book I’ve ever read feels completely different to everything else she’s written. I loved her collection of short stories, The Bloody Chamber, (even if the feminist messages were still extremely obvious) because it was a fun mix of Gothic horror, fairy-tales, and subverted and perverted narratives.

In contrast, Wise Children was … okay. I don’t really remember it. I didn’t particularly like it or dislike it. The story was okay and the characters were a somewhat quirky bunch of flawed people, but it never made a distinctive impression.

In contrast yet again, The Passion of New Eve is definitely more weird, more Gothic, more Dystopian, and more memorable than Wise Children, but less enjoyable and less easy to understand than The Bloody Chamber.

I don’t really know what else to say.

– Judith