I know why you’re here. You watched Bird Box on Netflix and now you’re thinking about reading the book in case it can provide additional insights. I know. I did the same thing. Let me save you some time: IT CAN’T.
The Netflix film is only loosely based on the book. For example, instead of having a strong mature female heroine, we are presented with a rather insipid 20-year-old Mallory, a weak young woman who is scared of her own shadow. This leads to delightful sentences like these:
The sound of her own voice in the empty street scares her.
Mallory is afraid. (repeated many many times)
The plot is also quite a bit different. In place of the fast-paced action of the movie, initial events take months to unfold, with people barricading themselves in their houses. Eventually, Mallory makes her way to the group house based on an ad in the back of the newspaper. (No, really.)
The characters are different. Tom exists, but he is a white school teacher.
I don’t know what’s worse, the print version or the audio version.
PRINT VERSION: We are treated to such gems as “Nine months before the children are born” when Mallory is six weeks pregnant. At “six months until the children are born,” Mallory feels the baby kick. Yeah, right.
AUDIO VERSION: The female narrator’s voice is extremely ill-suited to the material. She narrates in a tone that would be more suitable for a romance novel. What’s worse is that whenever Mallory speaks, the narrator’s voice becomes even weaker and sillier. Picture Sandra Bullock’s speech about “if you take off your blindfolds, you will die” said in a sickly-sweet voice and you'll get the idea. It is just not a fit. In addition, early on the narrator says “Marjorie” instead of “Mallory”. How did they not catch and fix that?
I’m not going to pretend I made it all the way through this book. I just couldn’t do it. But save yourself the time. Don’t even go there. The book is awful!
That said, I’ve watched the movie three times. It’s intense. I do like it, but it does present a fundamental problem, namely that people with mental illness are already marginalized in our society; in this movie, they are also demonized. My daughter wrote a review of the Bird Box film which I am including here:
Why Birdbox Is Ableist and Offensive
For those of you who don’t know, Birdbox is a horror/thriller movie with some romance and hurt/comfort thrown in for good measure. The premise is that if you see The Creature (which remains unseen other than in drawings), you kill yourself instantly, by whatever means possible. Billions of people die within a few hours of this creature coming into existence. This leads to a post apocalyptic world where people have to wear blindfolds to go outside to scavenge for food, keep all windows covered, etc.
There are only two kinds of people who are immune to The Creature: the blind, and the criminally insane.
(I could write an entire paper unpacking the term “criminally insane,” but the gist of it is that this is a legal term, not a medical one, and should not be misconstrued as anything resembling a diagnosis. Yet is is the term used in the movie.)
Blind people are simply immune because obviously, they cannot look at The Creature. “Criminally insane” people do not become suicidal when they look at it. Instead, they think The Creature is beautiful and that it will "cleanse the earth." And their sole ambition becomes making sure that everyone left alive sees The Creature by whatever means necessary-be that persuasion, slight of hand, or brute force. There is a scene where one of these people straight up murders a guy with a weapon and cries over the dead body, saying “I’m sorry you didn’t get to see it. It’s so beautiful.”
Read: this movie sends the message that if you’re mentally ill, you love the physical manifestation of suicidal thoughts and want to inflict it on everyone.
People who experience mental health issues do not love suicidal thoughts or want to inflict them on other people. NOBODY DOES.
It’s not impossible that The Creature is simply hypnotizing these people in a different way, that seeing The Creature is what makes these “criminally insane” people want other people to look at it. But it’s also not impossible that they’re just bad people who love death and awful stuff. This is never clarified. What IS clarified as that they initially escaped from a mental institution; ergo, were already "criminally insane" before The Creature appeared.
In real life, the vast majority of people with mental health issues have never, would never commit violent crimes. A good percentage, however, have had violent crimes committed against them.
I have also seen theories that The Creature is an angel and people see how beautiful heaven is and kill themselves to get there. This is toxic stuff to spread around (though maybe not as toxic as the actual movie) but it’s also blatantly untrue. We see how sad and hopeless people look in the seconds that pass between when they see The Creature and when they die. The main character, whose sister looks back at her right before she dies, says “It’s like she got…she got so sad, and Jess does not get sad. She’s not suicidal. She would never do that.” Which is the same bs that gets said when people commit suicide in real life...because obviously, most people who are suicidal try to hide it at least some of the time.
Anyway, if you do watch Birdbox, please consider doing so in such a way that doesn't benefit Netflix. Also, please take their portrayal of the mentally ill with a truckload of salt because the last thing these people need in real life is to be portrayed as villains yet again.
I would add that at least one “crazy” person in the film was not criminally insane, namely Fish Fingers from the grocery store. But his actions after looking at The Creature are homicidal.