"Bird Box" Movie Review
Though written well before this year’s A Quiet Place, 2016’s Hush, and also Tim Lebbon’s 2015 book The Silence, the new Netflix feature Bird Box will undoubtedly find itself labeled as a rip-off of a rip-off. The film, however, is a generally solid thriller that works well on its own, despite a couple noticeable flaws.
The story is this: a mysterious phenomenon has descended to Earth and instantly kills everyone who looks at it. (Actually, it makes the lookee immediately commit suicide, if we’re getting technical.) As a result, the world’s population (such as it is after the initial wave of mass self-extermination) is forced to stay indoors with blacked out windows. Should you choose to venture outside, you’re only safe if you don a blindfold. So, yeah—it’s A Quiet Place, except you need to be blind to survive, instead of mute.
Based on the novel by Josh Malerman, with a screenplay by The Arrival’s Eric Heisserer, Bird Box jumps right in, with a woman named Malorie (Sandra Bullock) telling her kids they’re going on a dangerous trip down the river. She demands that they do everything she says and to keep their blindfolds on at all times, or else they’ll die.
Flashback to five years earlier and a pregnant Malorie is heading to an OB appointment along with her sister (Sarah Paulson). Within an hour, the “invasion” begins and the world descends quickly into chaos. Malorie eventually finds shelter in a house nearby, along with a half-dozen other survivors, including skeptic survivalist Douglas (John Malkovich) and the clear-thinking Tom (Moonlight’s Trevante Rhodes).
From there, the film jumps back and forth between the river journey and the events that led up to it, as we slowly get answers about what’s going on. The more we learn, though, the more the film gets muddled and trips on its own logic. Some people look at the “thing” and manage to survive with only bloodshot eyes giving them away as infected victims, while others make it through and look completely normal. And then there are the times Malorie and the children hear the voices of dead people imploring them to open their eyes and look at the beautiful thing and give in to it.
Bird Box’s more glaring flaw, though, is with its structure. Not only does the use of flashbacks/forwards undercut the suspense (as we quickly piece together who will eventually live and die, based on who’s left at the end), it hampers any rhythm that director Susanne Bier gets going; the flick may well be worth a Pulp Fiction-style chronological edit.
Bullock, for her part, does an admirable job and turns in a performance that helps elevate Bird Box quite a bit, as we slowly begin to experience Malorie’s terror vicariously and see things through her eyes… or through her blindfold, as the case may be.
Though Bird Box doesn’t have nearly the heft as A Quiet Place—yes, some of that is due to its diluted media platform (small screen vs. darkened theater)—as apocalyptic thrillers go, it makes a better-than-average go at it. And, heck, it should at least get a few bonus points being an original idea… at the time.