Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve probably heard about Netflix’s latest “innovative” film, Bird Box. Look, I know it’s making waves and people are loving it, but I’m gonna level with ya … it was one of the most cliche movies I’ve ever seen.
Stop me when you’ve heard this before. It’s the end of the world and a group of strangers are forced to survive together. One of the members of the group is kind of a jerk but in reality has just accepted the rules of this new world. The group trusts someone they shouldn’t against the advice of the jerk and a large chunk of them die because of it.
I know what you’re thinking: Wow I have heard Bird Box’s story before. But here’s the thing.. that’s not a synopsis of Bird Box. It’s the description of several seasons of The Walking Dead.
So because of this, I want to go over a few of those cliches with you and help you to avoid making the same mistakes in your own writing.
K, so first off: Cliches aren’t always a bad thing.
Learning the basics of writing is kind of like learning the Pirate’s Code: “They’re more like guidelines.” So if you want to throw in a cliche or a trope, then be aware of what you’re doing and recognize it is a cliche. Stranger Things, The Conjuring and The Incredibles are perfect examples of this.
From playing off of childhood nostalgia, to taking a page out of classic horror films, and bringing the feeling of 60’s superheroes to life, all three of these films use familiarity to capture their audience. The difference between those movies and Bird Box though is their stories don’t depend on the cliche. You take the cliches out of Bird Box and you have 10 minutes of film leftover.
So here are a couple things you can do.
RECOGNIZE WHAT STANDS OUT
No matter what you’re writing I can guarantee there’s a fresh and new element to it because it’s written from your unique personality and point of view. Go through your story and ask yourself, “Have I seen this before?” If so great, but does your story hinge on something that’s been done to death.
One of my biggest gripes with Bird Box is the film starts off with a blind trip down a river, with an unknown danger just waiting to attack; my interest was piqued. However, the movie quickly flashes back and spends most of its time telling a run of the mill post apocalyptic story we’ve seen a million times.
Don’t believe me? Replace Sandra Bullock and John Malkovich with Rick and Shane from The Walking Dead, does anything really change? Change the weird (and unexplained) monsters to a virus, zombies, or aliens and is anything that different? I enjoyed the blind car ride to the grocery store, but it’s like this movie was afraid to lean into what made it stand out. Fun ideas like a blind GPS trip and a post apocalyptic river raft take a back seat to The Walking Dead tropes.
The flick has a really interesting and different start, but for some reason won’t lean into it (and yes, I’m aware it’s based off a novel, but like… you can change the story). Not only does the movie not lean into its hooks, it doesn’t even spend time there! 80% of the movie takes place in flashbacks! Don’t make Bird Box’s mistakes, lean into your unique concept.
LEARN WHAT MAKES CLICHES WORK
You can use them, it’s your world, just make sure you know what you’re doing.
Look at The Conjuring, nothing about the movie is inherently new. A family gets haunted and needs an exorcism, that’s literally every ghost movie EVER. And was kind of the point.
Director James Wan reinvigorated the horror genre, by leaning into what people love about classic horror movies in a fresh way. Ditching the modern trends of jump scares and found footage, the movie doesn’t just lean into suspense it holds it in a way that feels fresh and terrifying.
And while The Conjuring is a great movie, one of the reasons it worked as well as it did was because the market was over saturated by the current trends, and sometimes the future is in the past.What’s the current trend of the genre you’re writing? Can you bring in a bit of the past in a new way? Maybe the next thing Mission Impossible needs is to bring in a bit more of the 60’s flare? Whatever cliche element you bring into your story give it a fresh creative spin and bring in as much of you as possible.