The Creatures in ‘Bird Box’ Are Dumb, But it Works

The Creatures in ‘Bird Box’ Are Dumb, But it Works

I finally picked up Bird Box, long after the 2018 hype over the Netflix movie adaptation, and the trending cultural references and hilarious memes about blindfolds. I thought it was an entertaining read with a fast-paced, linear storyline that’s airtight. There’s very little meandering or monologuing. Josh Malerman is not making a cultural statement with his work, which is perhaps a relief. This story, in the hands of another writer, might have tried to say something about the environment, or the human condition, or something. I would have, but Malerman doesn’t, and we’re probably better for it.

From the beginning, Bird Box opens up as a frightening world with death creeping in at every grocery store and suburban sidewalk corner. ‘Creatures,’ as they’re referred to in the book, have appeared on Earth and spread throughout the globe driving humans mad at the mere sight of them. Literally. Apparently, all one has to do is look at a Creature and it’s enough to make someone gouge his or her eyes out. That’s it. That’s the premise.

On its face, this seems ridiculous. Certainly a story with a flimsy bad guy would not hold up. Plus, Malerman makes no attempt, or very little attempt, to define the Creatures. The reader has no idea why they’ve come, or what they want, or why or how people ‘go mad’. Readers are expected to get this universe, and suspend belief, and care.

And you know what, it works.

What’s impressed me the most about Bird Box is how irrelevant the backstory is about the Creatures. It turns out, it doesn’t matter where they came from, or even what they look like. Amazingly, this did not frustrate or annoy me as a reader. Why? My guesses are as follows:

  1. This is a straightforward Man vs Environment story. The reader doesn’t need more information on the threat because Malerman focused the story around Malorie and her quest for survival.
  2. The Creatures don’t directly harm the people, rather the people harm each other. Our main characters have little interaction with the Creatures, making the Creatures’ origins less relevant to the story.

Another story similar to Bird Box is World War Z. Contrary to Bird Box though, Max Brooks lays down serious pipe for explaining why and how we end up with a global zombie outbreak. I think he needed to do that though, because World War Z is a Man Saves the World story, and not a survival story like Bird Box.

All this to say that the main conflict in the story is what drives how much we need to know about the antagonist. That’s why the Creatures work, even if it is kinda dumb.