The news that one of your favourite books is being adapted into a film is always met with a cocktail of excitement and nerves. Bird Box, the novel, is a masterclass of the less-is-more approach to horror; toying with the reader’s senses and praying on our inherent fear of the unknown. Bird Box, the movie, is a decent if somewhat diluted version of the same ideas.
There were several aspects of the film that I really liked: It is largely faithful to the source material in terms of story, sticking close to the main plot arc; the performances are strong all round; and there are some visually gorgeous shots. I thought the non-linear structure, switching between Malorie and the children alone on the river, and their time within a larger group five years prior, was a nice nod to the structure of the book, and did well to create tension, with an inevitable sense of doom hanging over the other characters. I was also happy to see that one of my favourite themes from the book – Malorie’s moral struggle with the need to be cruel and distant with the children in order to keep them alive, and therefore the difference between living and surviving – was still present.
On a more negative note, however, I just didn’t find it very scary. Perhaps having read the book, and knowing what fate awaited each character, I simply didn’t feel the same dread that other viewers seem to have experienced. With the book, author Josh Malerman made the most of the form, with the horror, by proxy, always out of sight and left to the reader’s imagination. Trying to replicate this in a visual medium just couldn’t create anywhere near the same level of tension for me. And whilst I thought Sandra Bullock gave a very good performance, at 54, she doesn’t project the kind of energy that Malorie in the book did; that of a young, out-of-her-depth, first-time mother. With a much more mature aura, the difference isn’t necessarily bad; she’s just not the Malorie I always envisioned.
I can understand why those who haven’t read the book have found the film tense and shocking, but the parts of the book that I found the most horrifying, and which continue to haunt me some three years later, were all absent. I’m sure I only have to say, the well, the dog, and the umbilical cord, for readers to know exactly which scenes I’m referring to. As such, this is, for me, another classic case of a perfectly enjoyable movie that had a decent stab at recreating a wonderful book, but which ultimately fell short of capturing its true impact. It’s certainly worth seeing, but I’d recommend the book over the film any day of the week.