PopCult Book Club Review: March 2017 – Bird Box

Bird Box by Josh Malerman
(Ecco, 2014)

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The day society collapses Malorie learns she is pregnant. No one can say why everything has fallen apart, but there are some theories. The most prevalent are that the people who have gone murderous and crazed saw something, creatures or entities, that broke their minds. By the time Malorie heads to the safe house in Detroit people are boarding up their windows and only going outside equipped with blindfolds. Humanity is slipping into darkness. Josh Malerman’s debut novel jumps between Malorie’s pregnancy in the safe house to her blind journey down a river with her equally blinded children. She’s been told that somewhere down the river lies a place where the three of them can be safe. But is something stalking them on the shore?

Bird Box gets a lot of things right. First, it builds tension incredibly well. The concept of something you see, possibly even from the corner of your eye and can drive you to a homicidal rage is terrifying. The book introduces the apocalypse in the background, just a few strange piecemeal stories out of rural Russia. Then more and more incidents are reported until everything has crumbled. It also hits Malorie personally as early on she comes across a loved one who has seen whatever is causing this mental break. Malerman’s smartly leaves the exact nature of what is going a mystery. Characters wildly speculating is much scarier than the book spelling out what is happening outside the doors of the safehouse.

By building a paranoid tension, the author also develops his characters based on how they react to their circumstances. This is an excellent way to let your readers quickly get to know Malorie and the six or so supporting figures around her. As soon as she arrives at the safe house, we are aware who these people are right away. We see who is keeping a level head and trying to come up with workable solutions. We are aware who is petrified with fear about the change. We see who is quick to anger and irritation. I’m not a huge fan of The Walking Dead television series, but I do think Bird Box treads similar ground in its focus on ensemble character interaction. Malerman juxtaposes Malorie against another pregnant survivor. The house’s de facto leader Tom is mirrored and contrasted by a couple of other characters, one of whom comes late the story and could be considered the antagonist of the novel.

There is also something to be said for how smart it is to handicap your characters with the apocalypse, and then on top of that take away their chief sense. Malorie’s blindfolded odyssey out to a local bar to gather supplies is a grippingly tense sequence. Everything takes longer to do, and these stretched out moments allow us to immerse ourselves in the scene. We know as much as Malorie knows. When she discovers the trapdoor in the floor and the subsequent stench of horror that comes from it, we receive the same sensory input she does. This particular mode of information delivery is at it’s best during the journey down the river. Malorie has spent four years adapting herself and her children to the world without sight. As their boat floats down the waters, every sound is a potential threat. A brief encounter with another human on their trip is paranoid and suspenseful. Everyone is a danger, and she begins to speculate about the creatures and if they can now mimic human speech.

Overall, Bird Box is a very breezy exciting read. I wouldn’t place it up there with the type of horror I treasure, but it is a read very worthy of your time. I guarantee it will keep you glued due to his narrative momentum. When the horrific finale in the safe house finally comes about in the last two dozen pages, you’ll not be able to stop until you find out how it concludes. When Malorie and the children are within hearing distance of the new haven, her paranoia will overtake you, and you won’t be sure if they will make it.

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Movie Review – Into the Forest

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Into the Forest (2015, dir. Patricia Rozema)

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It’s hard to pinpoint just where Into the Forest goes wrong, but at some point, I found myself completely disengaged with the film. It tells the story of two sisters, Nell and Eva, stranded at their family home in Northern California, about 32 miles from the closest town after an unexplained global event destroys the power grid and sends society into chaos. The two sisters struggle to survive when they end up without anyone but each other. Through a series of trials and challenges, they learn to let go of their reliance on technology and reconnect with the natural aspects of the forest around them.

Continue reading “Movie Review – Into the Forest”

Book Club Announcement – March 2017: Bird Box

Bird Box (2014, Josh Malerman, Ecco)

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The apocalypse came and with it was the poisoning of a sense: sight. Whatever is out there, when you gaze upon it, you become a violent raging killer. Malorie, a single mother in Detroit, lives with her windows boarded up and her children blindfolded on a daily basis. They must learn to grow their other senses because what they might see beyond the door of their home could destroy them.

“Malerman excels at building tension with his eerie descriptions of blindfolded characters groping their way through a world of the dead, aware that something inhuman and beyond comprehension might be observing them, or possibly standing right in front of them. Malorie’s trek down the river is frightening, but even more unsettling is the constant awareness of the characters’ helplessness in both timelines, and the possible price of any attempt to alleviate it: Every time they hear a strange noise, encounter an unnervingly unfamiliar object, or feel what might be a gentle touch from an unseen, alien creature, they’re tempted to lift their blindfolds and settle their fears—possibly at the cost of their sanity, and then their lives” – The AV Club.

Mature Reading: Sweet Tooth



Sweet Tooth #1-11
Written and Illustrated by Jeff Lemire

This blog is intended to be mostly for people unfamiliar with comic books and what’s out there. I know some friends who read Watchmen for a college English class or people who may not be up to date on the newer series out. For those of you not too up to date, DC Comics has an imprint called Vertigo which specializes in non-superhero fare aimed at adults or adolescents with literary maturity. Most of the time the series their present are great, a few seem to fall flat. Sweet Tooth is very much the former. It’s a post-apocalyptic story about mutants and survival and humanity becoming incredibly tribal. The art style increases the uneasy feeling you’re meant to have reading that this scary and violent world. And its all the work of Jeff Lemire, recently signed as an exclusive creator for DC Comics.

Gus is 9 years old and lives with Pa in the middle of the forest. He’s never left the forest and Pa has warned him that outside of it is all the evils in the world, and if Gus doesn’t want to go to Hell he’ll stay put. Then Pa dies and Gus is left alone in the world, slowly running out of food in their desolate cabin. Then one day some men enter the woods carrying guns, and when they see Gus they know they have found something special. You see, Gus has a pair of deer antler growing from his head. His mother died in childbirth and Pa ran away with Gus to keep him safe. The hunter surround the little boy but he is saved by Tommy, a lone mercenary who becomes Gus’ protector. The duo set off to a place Tommy says will be safe for Gus. Along the way they encounter roving bands of killers and thieves that populate the now devastated American Midwest.

Sweet Tooth is a slow burn, and its perfect that way. Almost one year in and we still know very little of the mystery behind Gus. We know that his mutation is one of many that occurred as a result of a virus that killed millions. All the children born in the wake of the virus had animal mutations. There’s even a brothel they run across where a few women dress in animal masks to satisfy the cravings of some of the more perverted clientèle. The environments in the comic are very wide and very open, because its the Midwest it was already like that, but the apocalyptic air increases it a million times.

The artwork in Sweet Tooth is incredibly aesthetically inventive. In one of the more recent issues, Gus is put under hypnosis to pull out his memories of his life in the woods. The way Lemire stages is this is by miniature versions of Gus and the hypnotist walking along the full size Gus’ head, crawling into and out of his ears. It runs through the entire issue and is just one example of the creativity and interesting storytelling at work. This is a very easy one to get caught up on. Only two collections out right now so you could be ready to follow it month to month by catching up in day. A series that I am looking forward to seeing where it goes.