(I did my best to be vague and spoiler-free.)
I read romance almost exclusively, but I used to love good horror (so hard to find) on the page or on the screen, and The Haunting of Hill House was the best thing I’ve watched in a long time. It reminded me how much I enjoy the genre, so I was intrigued by the buzz for Netflix’s BIRD BOX. I also saw people talking about loving the book, though. It was only $2.99, so I grabbed it and found myself with a dilemma on my hands. I know the right answer is always to read the book first, but I’m not a fast reader and I wanted to watch the movie. But I also knew if I watched the movie, I’d probably never read the book.
So I read the book on Thursday. I bought the Kindle edition at 1pm and finished it at 9pm. Again, I’m generally a slow reader—not so much in speed as in attention—and it’s been a long time since I’ve inhaled a book in what would have been one sitting if I didn’t have a family who likes to eat an evening meal. Such a good book, both in story and craft, with use of paragraph and sentence structure, style and white space to manipulate the tension. A good horror writer can use structure much the same way a horror movie uses music, and Josh Malerman does it well.
I watched the movie adaptation Friday morning, hitting play about fourteen hours after finishing the book, which was the least amount of time I’ve ever had between the two. And right from the beginning, there were huge differences between the movie and the book, but in a good way. BIRD BOX doesn’t have big bad monsters (maybe). No ghosts. No jump scares. The terror is literally unseen. The problem with unseen terror is, of course, that movies are visual. And I could see how the changes helped make the core story of an excellent book into an excellent movie.
If there was one thing that did suffer in the transition from book to screen, it was the relationship of Malorie (Bullock) with the children. Without spending so many pages literally IN her head, the foundation upon which their unique dynamic was built is flimsy at best. A significant change was made to the plot in the final third of the movie and I think it was so she’d have the opportunity to verbalize some of what went into the dynamic, but I don’t know if it was enough to explain her to viewers who haven’t read the book first. And that change not only altered the reality of what Malorie had been living, but required the addition of a scene that was grossly out of step not only with the book, but with the movie it was actually in.
And the ending was handled very differently, but since the crisis in the book was largely psychological, it had to be jacked up for the screen. And I liked it.
So they were the same and yet different, and both engrossing. Oh, and besides the stellar acting of Sandra Bullock (as expected), Danielle Macdonald (who played Willowdean in the amazingly awesome Dumplin’) plays Olympia and that was a cool surprise! Trevante Rhodes and John Malkovich were also excellent.
In conclusion, if you like horror, you should read the book AND watch the movie.