Bird Box, 2018.
Directed by Susanne Bier.
Starring Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, Sarah Paulson, LilRel Howery, John Malkovich, Rosa Salazar, Jacki Weaver, Happy Anderson, Amy Gumenick, Danielle Macdonald, Taylor Handley, BD Wong, Parminder Nagra, and Machine Gun Kelly.
When a mysterious force decimates the world’s population, only one thing is certain: if you see it, you take your life. Facing the unknown, Malorie finds love, hope and a new beginning only for it to unravel. Now she must flee with her two children down a treacherous river to the one place left that may offer sanctuary. But to survive, they’ll have to undertake the perilous two-day journey blindfolded.
Bird Box is a mashup of two different films where Emmy-nominated director Susanne Bier or Arrival screenwriter Eric Heisserer seem indecisive of what story to focus on. This could also be the standard shortcomings from adapting a novel (Josh Malerman), that appears to have plentiful material to mine. Regardless of who is to blame, there’s always the overwhelming sensation that Bird Box would have functioned as far more intense and less formulaic to the apocalyptic genre by pushing the five-years-into-the-pandemic aspect, which forces the filmmakers to creatively play around with the plague that they have unleashed.
Malorie (Sandra Bullock, superb in both emotional moments and tense set pieces built around staying alive whenever in the vicinity of these invisible evil forces) is roughly 8 months pregnant and an introverted artist struggling to prepare to be a single mother. To be fair, she’s more content ignoring the living human her body is nurturing rather than prepare. Nevertheless, during a normal day involving routine baby checkups, news cycles talk about the aforementioned mass suicides affecting other continents, specifically an unseen entity containing the power to quickly drive anyone within close proximity to it so mentally unsound they commit suicide right then and there. The entity plays off of the usual elements; darkest fears, attachment to loved ones, and generally what you would expect in order to coax the innocent over to the other side. Without spoiling much, there are also some individuals that are affected by the entity differently, but it’s better left for the viewer to find out.
Wasting no time, the horrors spread not just around the world but exponentially; inside the hospital are patients smashing their heads bloody against the walls (which is slightly confusing because indoor and darkly lit areas are supposedly safe, so maybe a backdoor was open or something that would allow it to travel from beyond outside?), leaving Malorie and her sister (Sarah Paulson) frantically driving to find sanctuary. Not surprisingly, casualties occur throughout the drive, which admittedly cranks up the tension, as the audience is just as interested in the lives of the background citizens as they are invested in the character of Malorie. The problem is that once Malorie surrounds herself with the cast of supporting characters, Bird Box plays into nearly every apocalyptic trope under the sun without much of a twist; John Malkovich plays an over the top selfish prick, there’s a couple that fuck immediately upon realizing that the end of days are likely near and that they are alone/the two most attractive people holed in this secluded home, a sweet and compassionate woman also nearly ready to give birth (Danielle Macdonald truly gives the best performance in the film, her warmth, and tenderness despite being terrorized and feeling unfit for survival compared to everyone else are all notes successfully played), Trevante Rhodes as the morally sound and strong and resourceful love interest, and a few more names trying to survive.
Bird Box flashes back and forth between the start of this global terror and five years later, where Malorie is attempting a dangerous mission to ride a boat blindfolded with her children to a safe haven. These present-day moments often feel like the recently praised A Quiet Place, dropping the audience into a nightmare where we observe the characters and their intelligent means of survival. There’s more opportunity to get creative when you have characters that have been living under the situation for years, although the film does try to be inventive during the 80 minutes or so that basically see characters arguing over what to do next. Making a supermarket run, some characters blindfold themselves for a short drive, but even with state-of-the-art GPS directions more descriptive than anything I’ve ever seen in my life, it all feels unbelievable and too contrived. The atmosphere and fear for survival are most strong during the present day.
That’s not to say the execution is bad during the makeshift stronghold portion of the film; the actors are all well cast, putting in serviceable work, usually leave you empathizing with their decisions (wise or stupid), and under alternate circumstances I would say that is enough to make for a pretty good movie. What’s frustrating here is that there is a far better movie Bird Box is teasing. It could be argued that there are relevant thematic points regarding motherhood, but the film focuses on the group of characters more than Sandra Bullock as an individual, meaning that there is not necessarily an astounding amount of character growth. Thankfully, at least the parts that directly focus on her are mostly employments of fierce survival rooted in the natural instinct to protect one’s children.
Faults aside, it’s wrong to be tough on Bird Box considering the all-around craft is competent and works more often than not. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross also score some electronic jams that supplement the suspense (especially during the climax); they should be contracted to make music for every apocalyptic film that gets put into production. Still, if Bird Box had bet it all on following Sandra Bullock for one riveting and perilous journey across the river, complete with ingenious strokes of danger, there’s a chance we would have more of a masterpiece rather than something effectively competent.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com