Starring Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich, Tom Hollander, Jacki Weaver, BD Wong, Machine Gun Kelly, Sarah Paulson
“I will hurt you,” Malorie says terrifyingly at two small children as the movie opens. “Bird Box” has a large burden to bear because when the trailer hit for Netflix’s creepy new original film, people instantly began comparing it to box office hit (now Golden Globe nominee) “A Quiet Place.” It’s impossible not to compare the two. Both feature characters struggling to survive without the use of all their senses. Both have pregnant female leads in an isolated area facing an unknown terror. “Bird Box” is from director Susanne Bier, whose previous films like “Serena” with Jennifer Lawrence and “Things We Lost in the Fire” starring Halle Berry, were met with lukewarm receptions. This is easily her strongest and most acute film to date, one that boasts an engaging premise and a diverse cast.
One minute Malorie (Bullock) is having a prenatal checkup with her sister Jessica (Paulson) and the next the entire world has turned upside down due to an unknown psychotic event that effects humans visually. Whatever it is people are seeing drives them almost instantly to a violent suicide. A group of strangers makes it to the nearest house where a paranoid Douglas (Malkovich) and homeowner Greg (Wong) are sheltering people. Windows are covered, no news from the outside world, as the group try to maintain civility inside as tempers and paranoia run high. Food becomes scarce and every knock results in a debate about whether or not to open the door to what’s outside.
"Bird Box" comes into its own near the end when the situational elements of the story prove to be an allegory for parenting.
What was the last film featuring a pregnant woman with a shotgun? That might seem like a wildly unique premise but “A Quiet Place“ has that too. “Bird Box” isn’t without its originality despite the glaring comparisons. Bullock’s steadfast performance is reminiscent of her work in “Murder by the Numbers” or “Gravity.” It’s the scenes where she is on screen solo where some overacting occurs. Netflix seems to encourage the “more is more” element which gives this particular genre film a more Stephen King feel. As suspenseful as the story gets, it never rises to the artistic level of “A Quiet Place.” Based on an adapted screenplay by “Arrival’s” Eric Heisserer, the expert level of nuance used in that film is lost here. Rhodes is calmly well cast while Malkovich is playing another incarnation of the same character he always plays on screen.
Where the film excels most is when the story moves outside the house, five years ahead and Bullock is alone with two children. “I can’t trust you,” she screams in their face. Boy and Girl she calls them, exhibiting a tough love that’s as far from her “Blind Side” character as we have ever seen her play. “Bird Box” comes into its own near the end when the situational elements of the story prove to be an allegory for parenting. The payoff isn’t quite satisfactory and questions are certainly left unanswered. “Bird Box” feels like a slightly higher quality original for Netflix, it’s a few letter grades better than “Hold the Dark.”
Bullock’s performances combined with solid suspense certainly makes Bird Box engaging.