Bird Box is no Quiet Place – a side by side comparison
I didn't want to see A Quiet Place. I thought the premise was stupid and figured the producers would use jump cuts and crashing sound for cheap scares. I tried to talk my dad out of seeing it. I suggested several other movies I was lukewarm to see, but my dad insisted. "I wanna see aliens!" he told me. So we watched A Quiet Place – and I was pleasantly surprised.
A Quiet Place isn't a perfect movie, but it did a lot of really good things. The family had a complex relationship rooted in love and understanding, which was a nice shift from the overly dysfunctional and self-destructive families we usually see on the big screen. Instead of sabotaging themselves for cheap drama (one of my least favorite tropes – especially in dystopian movies), the family had discipline and a longterm plan. The use of silence was also reverenced to my delight, setting a premium on visuals, which were well used. Admittedly, there were some inconsistencies, oversights, liberties, and one downright irritating scene that I felt should have been cut completely (old man screaming). But I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and was quite proud of the way they used the absence of sound.
I also had no interest in seeing Bird Box. My expectations were equally low, if not more so. There was an implicit promise that Bird Box would do for sight what A Quiet Place did for sound. It was an ambitious proposal to say the least. I figured that Hollywood had managed one sense-deprived movie with verve and swagger, and now all the hacks felt it could be easily replicated. Yet, I allowed myself to be peer pressured into watching it, as many people compared it favorably to A Quiet Place. At the very least, it had Sandra Bullock of Love Potion No. 9, Demolition Man, and The Blind Side fame, and John Malkovich of Being John Malkovich.
Where A Quiet Place was endearing and naive in the beginning, as a family looted the wreckage of better days, Bird Box was cheap and overly dramatic, as Sandra lectured two children in a vain effort to tug at the heartstrings. The children of A Quiet Place were smart, resourceful, and independent, while the children of Bird Box were wooden and so underdeveloped that the fact Sandra called them "girl" and "boy" was just as representative of their value to the story as it was a symbol of Sandra's angst and pessimism. A Quiet Place looked out on a desolate land and recognized a place where children would still need toys and games – though they inevitably caused difficulties. On the other hand, Bird Box used its children as stand-ins for the audience so the main star could harp on the incredible dangers we were not allowed to see, and forced us to keep our blindfolds tight, no matter the emergency.
A Quiet Place was well positioned to show, and not tell – a hallmark of a great story. A Quiet Place used lack of sound to its advantage and built suspense without it. From the first moment, we see Emily Blunt is pregnant, we understand the danger. There is no reason to state it. We see it. Often in A Quiet Place we see the monsters stalking about in the background, as silent as death. We do not need a blaring soundtrack to scream danger. I expected Bird Box to position itself diametrically and lean on sound, using it in subtle ways to build tension – a possibility that was never realized. Instead, we were only given a few blind moments to prove the flailing actors really couldn't see as they floundered about in the woods. The invisible monsters could make you insane with just a glance, but weren't smart enough to coax anyone off a cliff, or into a pit with their whispers. Instead, they simply begged the blindfolded to remove their blinds – so the only real tension was between conflicting orders. Do I do as I am told now, or do I do as I was told then?
Bird Box also squandered what I thought was a golden opportunity to allow the heroes some sight, as one character had the bright idea to look out on the haunted streets by way of security cameras. Was it a cop-out, or just a clever work-around to their crippling inability to see anything at all? It could of been used to great effect as characters could then go about breaking and losing their cameras while denying the urge to simply look up with their lovely eyes – and risk going crazy. But it amounted to nothing, which was all too obvious once the other characters abandoned the room and closed the door behind them. Why couldn't anyone stay with the man, watch him go mad, and perhaps learn something of the enemy? Instead, he was simply written off, allowed to go crazy and kill himself before anyone could rush up to his office and intervene.
I will say that Bird Box did two interesting things I really liked. First, it allowed that birds were sensitive to the monsters as the birds tended to freak out whenever the monsters were around. Of course, once this was revealed, the birds were relegated to treasure status and stuffed in a box to be coddled, and never utilized. Instead of using them as an early warning system, our heroes insisted on stumbling through the world blind, despite calm birds. Second, the story allowed that crazy people weren't driven mad by the monsters, but instead became zealots and wanted nothing more than to "make other people see", which upped the ante nicely. Unfortunately, this twist was tempered since it caused far too much trouble for the overly blind protagonists, and was used simply to inflate the bodycount.
In A Quiet Place, the right sound became a weapon that could defeat the monsters. At the end, there is a promise of life returning to normal – if they can only defeat the remaining beasts. On the other hand, Bird Box was so lacking in vision that nothing was found to give our heroes their sight back. Instead, it was inevitably the blind that rescued the blind, all so they could let the birds out – into a slightly bigger box.
Final Ratings –
A Quiet Place: B++
Bird Box: D