Is it just me, or are people who dislike Bird Box REALLY opinionated about it?
I will admit, going in, that it was going to be pretty damn hard for me to hate Bird Box. I am a diehard fan of the book by Josh Malerman, and have spent the last several years convincing people to read it. Okay, okay…I know some of those people may actually be reading this, so I will concede that ‘convince’ is not a strong enough verb. I downright bullied them into it. But it was for their own good! I knew that they would love it.
And for the most part, I was right. Give me a break; no one gets it right one hundred percent of the time. People have different tastes and opinions, and that is what makes the world go round. It’s the reason that we can have lively debate and stimulating conversation. It’s the spice of life, the je ne sais quoi of….
Blah blah blah. Whatever. You. One percent. You were wrong. The book is fantastic. Deal with it.
And yet, there seems to be no middle of the road when it comes to critiquing the film. People seem to either love it or hate it. It has inspired an unholy amount of memes. It has prompted a Darwin Award level challenge that encourages people to go about their daily business blindfolded. It has spawned inevitable comparisons to films in which protagonists struggle to survive without a sense that the majority of us see as necessary, A Quiet Place in particular.
What I find interesting is how similar the reactions to both films have been. They seem to be deeply polarizing to the horror community as a whole. But why?
The borderline ramblings of a horror blogger well past her bedtime that you have just read have led you to this week’s horror hypothesis: there are two types of monster movie lovers. There are those who love the monster, and those who love the humans.
Which Camp Are You In?
The monster movie is a staple in any good horror fan’s repertoire. Some of my personal favourites include Frankenstein, The Host, and Cloverfield. Examining these choices, I realize that this puts me squarely in the “humans” camp.
This hypothesis does not specify that I love the humans in these stories. Frankenstein in particular isn’t exactly a glowing look at human nature and humility. It just means that I am in love with the human story that monster movies can explore. In some monster movies, we don’t get a lot of screen time with the creature. We get some, and what we get is extremely effective, but the human face to the story is much more interesting to me. The Host is about a monster attack, and a screw-up dad’s subsequent search for his snatched daughter. On top of that, the monster is created when a truly horrible scientist orders his lab assistant to dump hundreds of bottles of a toxic chemical down the drain. Cloverfield is about an alien that attacks New York, but a group of friends making their way across the city together to save another is the real story. And Frankenstein…well, I don’t think that I need to rehash that particular heart of darkness for anyone reading this post. But it is a fascinating look at what power can do to a seemingly decent person.
What Do Monster Lovers Want?
Those who are firmly in the critical camp for Bird Box and A Quiet Place are monster lovers. They are fans who come to the movie to see a monster jump out at them. They are there hoping to see people get grabbed, ripped, maimed, chomped and digested. Those in this camp dislike Bird Box because there is a monster, but we never see it. When I read the book, this aspect of the story made perfect sense to me. Our narrator can never look at the monster, so why would she have any idea what it would look like? But those in the monster camp went in craving fangs, fur, claws and paws…and in this way this monster movie did not deliver as these fans feel that a monster movie should.
A Quiet Place is the same. In this case we do get a clear view of the monster. Again, not a lot of screen time, but enough effective glances that we know what these survivors are up against. But this was not a story about these monsters devastating the world. In this film, the devastation had already happened. The world was gone, and the audience was joining after the characters had had months to get used to that fact. The movie was about smaller stakes – the survival of this one family unit. It was about their day to day struggles. It was about the inability of a father and daughter to speak to one another about things that mattered to them. And it was about moving on after loss. For those of us in the human story camp, we got what we wanted. We were highly invested in the story, and so the tension building worked. But monster lovers who were sold on the idea of this movie as monster driven were understandably disappointed.
Where Are Monster Movies Headed?
To me, these aspects made A Quiet Place a success. But it is also this kind of uncertainty of what makes a monster movie a horror movie that causes so much confusion at award time. It has a monster in it so it must be a horror movie. But it has John Krasinski in a gut wrenching final scene that had everyone who has ever had a parent ever bawling like babies. So which is it? Monster movie, horror movie, or drama? Or, you know, Musical or Comedy (insert eyeroll here).
The mix of horror and drama seems to becoming more and more common, with horror film makers attempting to achieve scares by reaching into our deepest insecurities about our everyday lives. They try to disturb us with scenarios that make us think about our fears about being human, and throwing in a monster to bring characters back to basics. They are making audiences feel vulnerable by stripping away from characters things that we feel secure in having and take for granted.
Perhaps with continued splicing of horror with dramatic storytelling we will become more accustomed to this as a whole. But for now, horror fans remain in two camps: monsters versus humanity.