It’s a little surprising that Josh Malerman’s debut is set to become a movie. Its characters spend so much time stumbling about in total darkness, it feels like radio would be a more natural fit.
An unknown force has led to an epidemic of suicides and murders; the mere sight of something is instantly driving people insane. We follow a small household of survivors, who live with blankets over the windows, and don blindfolds whenever they venture outside.
It’s a neat pitch, whose implications are thoughtfully worked out. Pregnant protagonist Malorie is quite a piece of work - remarkably resilient. The way chapters alternate between past and present helps maintain intrigue. And a metaphorical reading concerning the way we’re encouraged to live in a constant state of vaguely-defined fearfulness always feels within reach.
Bird Box doesn't feel all that original though, as it shares a good 80% of its DNA with your average zombie story. The characters lock themselves away; there are expeditions for supplies; people live in fear of friends “turning”; it’s uncertain if newcomers can be trusted. And while Malerman does a sterling job of periodically placing you inside a blindfold, mind racing with paranoid fears, as you wonder whether that brush against your shoulder was some unspeakable horror or merely a falling leaf, it’s a trick that eventually starts to lose its impact.
Ian Berriman twitter.com/ianberriman
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