By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Dec 31, 2018 at 12:06 PM

More than Santa, more than Christmas trees and more than dudes roaming around department stores on December 24 trying to find something respectable enough to resemble a gift, the most popular sight of the holiday season was people who couldn’t see. 

Released to the streaming service on Dec. 21, Netflix’s "Bird Box" received a studio’s favorite kind of marketing: the free kind, as the internet turned a blindfolded Sandra Bullock, amongst other more spoiler-y images, into memes. Some find them hilarious; others found them suspicious.

But the one undeniable result of seeing more blindfolds than a Pin the Tail on the Donkey convention: "Bird Box" became the must-see, watch-or-get-left-behind viral hit of the season – which is a shame because that meant a lot of people had to waste two hours over break watching a derivative apocalyptic thriller rather than spending time with family or playing with new gifts or just watching "A Quiet Place" instead. 

Painter Malorie (Sandra Bullock, sturdy but with nothing to hold up) is having a very normal one, trying to distract herself from her impending motherhood with work and bantering with her sister (Bullock’s effortlessly charming "Ocean’s 8" co-star Sarah Paulson, around for nowhere near long enough) when a … something rampages its way across America. No one knows what the menace is, but Malorie and the rest of the world quickly learns what it does: If you see the invisible monster – which, actually writing that down, huh? – you immediately kill yourself.  

To be fair, calling "Bird Box" a "Quiet Place" rip-off isn’t completely honest. It’s also a rip-off of several other apocalyptic thrillers – from the ragtag band of survivors holed up together protecting from the outside while uneasily threatening to unravel from the inside ("Dawn of the Dead," "The Mist" or TV’s "Walking Dead") to the entire concept of an unseen threat causing sudden suicides while ominously blowing leaves around ("The Happening").

Even the increasingly specific premise of an isolated Sandra Bullock coping with loss and motherhood in a metaphor-laden sci-fi scenario was done before in "Gravity."

But hey, using a derivative mold isn’t terrible if you fill it with something interesting or unique – plus M. Night Shyamalan’s eco-horror flick is exactly the kind of movie that should be remade or reworked, a grabby and compelling concept poorly executed. 

Unfortunately, while director Susanne Bier’s film copy-and-pasted most of its story ideas from elsewhere, anything remotely scary or thrilling – or, in the case of "The Happening," at least memorably misguided and hilarious – got left behind. 

After opening with some fairly tense and effectively dread-inducing chaos, any momentum or excitement gets left outside to rot as soon as Malorie bunkers down with a trite collection of barely characterized post-apocalyptic clichés – ranging from the charismatic crank (John Malkovich) to the pleasant if naïve pregnant woman (Danielle Macdonald of fellow new Netflix release "Dumplin’") to the romantic interest (Trevante Rhodes, "Moonlight") and the knowledgeable comedic relief (Lil Rel Howry, "Get Out").

Jacki Weaver, Rosa Salazar of the upcoming "Alita" and Machine Gun Kelly are also in attendance, but are barely given anything to do – except for each other, in the case of the latter two – save for add to the inevitable body count. 

And it feels even more tediously inevitable since Eric Heisserer’s screenplay, based off the Josh Malerman novel of the same name, keeps jumping forward in time five years to Malorie blindly rowing her way down a river to sanctuary with two kids and no one else. The trip doesn’t bring much added excitement or depth; instead the structure skips over the potential emotional core with her kids and, worst of all, gives away where "Bird Box" is going – and who’s not coming with – meaning the audience is stuck anxiously waiting for the movie to catch up with itself. 

Bier and Heisserer must’ve gotten bored, too, as midway through the script haphazardly breaks its own rules to introduce a new and very predictable threat who speedily dispatches the remainder of the cast that didn’t receive enough lines to be considered important. The two then sprint Malorie toward an undercooked, unearned ending that’s both completely out of nowhere and completely obvious. 

Even if it wasn’t beaten to the punch by "A Quiet Place" – Malerman's book does predate John Krasinski's horror hit – "Bird Box" would still fail on its own terms, a slog through tired formula. Want a sleazy B-movie ride? It doesn’t offer a single memorable death and only half-hearted thrills. (At least "The Happening" had the indecency to throw in a lawnmower.) Want a thoughtful genre film? Bier’s film flops there too, failing to say anything interesting with its massively loaded, potential-rich conceit, blindly grasping for themes and gripping to none.

There’s plenty of ponderous and portentous conversation that hints at saying something about motherhood or grief or the disconnected state of the world. Maybe the invisible monster is social media? Or white privilege? Sure, interesting ideas – if only "Bird Box" was as interesting, or put in that kind of effort. 

I’ll play. My theory on the true unseen menace of "Bird Box"? Netflix’s much ballyhooed algorithm, which makes many of its projects feel more like the soulless product of an equation than inspired creativity, a storytelling uncanny valley that appears close enough to art but looks dead behind the eyes. Drop "A Quiet Place" and some demographic data into the Moviemaker 3000 and – congrats – you’ve solved for movie. They call it revolutionary; I remember when it was called hacky. Make it meme-able enough and you’ve created something worthy of a drowsy Christmas break half-watch on the couch while simultaneously skimming tweets and memes. 

Well, thank god for the memes, as they’re the only source of entertainment or creative impulse to be found in "Bird Box." Otherwise, there is, indeed, nothing to see here. 

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.