Bird Box Review
Following in the footsteps of this year’s runaway success A Quiet Place (John Krasinski), Bird Box is the latest in the post apocalyptic, sensory deprivation sub-genre which seems to be really taking off. Susanne Bier (one of Denmark’s leading directors, best known over here for BBC series The Night Manager) directs Sandra Bullock in a world ravaged by unseen creatures who use suicidal thoughts as a weapon to any of who look at them.
Bird Box opens with Malorie (Bullock) embarking on a dangerous journey down-river with two very young children, Boy and Girl. The rules of this particular dystopia are set out for us almost immediately - “if you look, you will die”. The children don’t look old enough to really understand this, but the story is set in motion. Intercut with their treacherous journey down an unforgiving river, is the story of how they got to this point. Flashing back to five years earlier, a pregnant Malorie is caught up in an attack by these creatures - they are never given a name - and survives by running into a house with a bunch of strangers. She spends much of the next five years inside attempting to avoid eye contact with the creatures and fending off the never-ending drama that comes from being locked inside a house with a group of survivors in this apocalypse.
Sandra Bullock gives a strong central performance - Malorie is a character not to be messed with and for the most part this is interesting to watch. She’s unpredictable - which is surprising and fun to watch - showing off her gun toting skills whilst also retaining the voice of reason within the rag-tag group of survivors. There’s some allusion to her having some sort of social aversion or depression during a doctor’s appointment at the beginning - this is never touched upon again and seems completely at odds with everything else we are shown about Malorie.
Bullock’s character is the only one who is even close to resembling a human being, however. Her cohorts, the group of people who all happen to run into the same house that she did after the attacks began, are all incredibly flimsy, one dimensional filler. There’s the comedy relief (Get Out’s Lil Rel Howery), the Princess (Dumplin’s Danielle MacDonald who is woefully under-utilised), the Grandma (Jacki Weaver), the ‘tough girl’ (The Maze Runner’s Rosa Salazar) and John Malkovich’s bitter alcoholic, the man who owns the house that they have all taken as a base. Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight) also stars as Tom, nice-guy-turned-love-interest for Bullock’s Malorie.
This is literally the definition of star-studded cast, so it’s a real shame that we never get a glimpse of anything underneath the surface. They all behave according to their stereotype with the film actually relying on this in some ways to move the narrative along. It feels very much like lazy script-writing.
Though the central narrative is dependent on the audience understanding how Malorie, Tom and the others are able to survive without sight (or going outside), the film completely fails to explain some key moments. It’s one thing to suspend one’s disbelief, but there are certain sequences whereby characters seem to get by on sheer (unbelievable) luck or because of the will of the scriptwriter more than any logical process. Certain parts of the river journey fall under this category, and the general way in which the creatures seem to operate.
Though there is limited explanation of the why, when and how the creatures came to be on our planet - this isn’t the fundamental problem with them. Bird Box goes to great lengths to have the creatures behave in whichever way the particular scene demands. Occasionally they seem to be talking directly with their victims, yet at other times the attacks seem far quicker and less emotionally driven. These attacks (or swarms may be a better descriptor here) are seemingly random, which might make the film scarier but it does little to convince the audience of the creature being an entity that could even exist in the world.
There’s also a very odd issue with the film’s portrayal of the mentally ill. At some point, the surviving group realise that certain people can see the creatures without killing themselves. It’s never fully explained, but it is heavily implied that those who are already mentally ill are not adversely affected by the creatures but instead want everyone else to look at them too. This forces the ‘crazies’ (as they are called) to become almost as much of a villain as the creatures themselves - breaking into houses and forcing people’s eyes open. It’s a bit of an uncomfortable narrative decision to portray mentally ill people as completely off-the-rails crazy, coupled with the filmmaker's decision to not even interrogate this, or try to explain it. Like with so many aspects of this film, it’s simply a fact that the audience has to swallow whether it makes sense or not.
Bird Box throws together some well-worn clichés with a semi-interesting premise and comes out with a film which probably fuels more questions than it answers. Bullock is, as always, fantastic, but the film itself leaves a lot to be desired.