BIRD BOX or how to make a hit horror movie.
Netflix's Bird Box, directed by Susanne Bier (The Night Manager TV series) and written by Eric Heisserer (Arrival) from a book by Josh Malerman, has created a sensation. While Netflix never releases audience numbers, Bird Box seems to be a hit. Of course, 'hit' must be in context. Hit shows on the major networks like The Big Bang Theory have upward of 18 million viewers. In-theatre only movies have more viewers - Black Panther sold over 70 million tickets.
The consensus is that Bird Box had 26 millions viewers (compare that to the Golden Globes with 18.6 million). Whatever the numbers, Bird Box is a hit, generating not only viewers but buzz: Is it a joke, this 'thing' or 'no-thing' that causes people to kill themselves? What makes this story go? Not the characters who have no or little backstory, or the simple plot: if you see 'it', you kill yourself.
Bird Box, for the 300 million or so who have not watched it, is about a woman, Sandra Bullock (I am not using character names because, as I said, the characters have no backstory and, in fact, the movie uses the 'public perception' of the actors to fill-in for character development, like casting John Wayne in a western - you know who this guy is based on who is playing the part), who is pregnant but without a husband or father of the child who left, apparently, soon after he did the deed. Her sister, Sarah Paulson, wants to help her since Bullock is not a happy mother-to-be and is even told by her doctor that most mothers end up loving their child. Bullock is so unconvinced that she doesn't want to know the gender of the baby and, in fact, she ends up calling it "Boy" (and a same-age girl she ends up taking care of, "Girl").
The movie is told in two simultaneous parts, five years apart. So, we see the world-wide epidemic of suicides and how it quickly infects the California community where Bullock and Paulson live. There is no explanation, suddenly, people start doing crazy things - banging their heads until they die, driving cars into other cars, stabbing themselves. These scenes of the 'beginning' of the epidemic are interspersed with scenes from five years later when survivors Bullock and her son and "Girl" are in her care as she tries to get them to safety. The key to survival is being blindfolded whenever outside and not looking at 'it.'
The buzz reminds me of the public's reception of Rosemary's Baby almost 50 years ago. That movie saw newly weds, Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes, move into a Manhattan apartment. Cassavetes is an actor up for a big part. He gets it when the actor who was selected, suddenly, goes blind. Soon after, Farrow gets pregnant and is stuck at home getting unwanted advice and help from an elderly couple who live next door. It turns out that they are a witch/warlock pair and her husband sold Farrow to these demons so that her child could be the new Beelzebub. It's a thrilling and scary movie, a roller coaster ride through the terrors of pregnancy and a parent's worst fears realized - little Johnny turns out to be a devil, literally.
Just as in Bird Box, the characters in Rosemary's Baby were not fully drawn. The young couple seem to have landed in Manhattan from the moon, no family and very few friends. There are really only 4 characters in the movie - the young and elderly couples. The plot is not explained very much - yes, a few minutes are spent on talking about witches and warlocks, but nothing that makes any impression other than that they do exist.
And that is how to have a hit 'horror' movie. One exciting scene after another, keeping the audience occupied with visuals that are arresting and moments that are shocking. In Bird Box, John Malkovich plays his stereotypical angry, bitter, suspecting character. Trevante Rhodes plays the guy we met in Moonlight. There are other stereotypes you will recognize - happy, overweight pregnant woman who is actually a lot better person than we think, odd couple 20-somethings who end up in bed (well, doing it but not actually in ...), sympathetic looking guy who turns out to be a monster, unsympathetic guy who turns out to be right - you've met them all before but not in this movie.
Anyway, it's a fun 2 hours. It comes to a kind of conclusion, just like Rosemary's Baby. And at the end, Sandra Bullock gets to go on another scary, dangerous, thrilling ride - this time in a boat not a bus, but it's the same ride and the same plucky Sandra who survives.