Distributed By: Netflix
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
I had been seeing previews for a new movie scheduled to air on Netflix for about a month now. Based on a novel by Josh Malerman, Bird Box stars Sandra Bullock in the lead role and has a rather frightening premise – an entity is out there and if you see it, you die. I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to see this film, especially based on the incredibly varying opinions I’ve been reading on the web, but a co-worker assured me that I was going to like this film, so I decided to give it a shot.
The movie begins with a young mother named Malorie (Sandra Bullock) sternly telling two children that they are about to embark on a long and dangerous journey and that they have to keep their blindfolds on or they will die. Then, we flashback to five years ago and a much cleaner and less stern Malorie who is painting in her loft as her sister Jess (Sarah Paulson) discusses the strange mass suicides taking place all over the world. Malorie points out that they are not happening in the United States and the two begin to discuss Malorie’s pregnancy and her fear that she won’t bond with her unborn child.
While at the hospital for a check-up, Malorie witnesses a woman who seemed perfectly happy when they walked in begin banging her head into a glass window repeatedly as they are leaving. Something in the woman’s eyes tells Malorie that the mysterious suicide thing has finally reached America. She and her sister run to the car, though they don’t quite know where they are running to or what they are running from. Suddenly, Jess sees something horrific and this leads her to crash their vehicle. As Malorie watches, Jess steps backward into an oncoming truck and is killed. Horrified, Malorie resumes her frantic run on foot, but is knocked to the pavement by other fleeing individuals.
A woman named Lydia (Rebecca Pidgeon) spots her and tries to help her into a house she is fleeing to with her husband. Unfortunately, Lydia sees something that makes her enter a fully engulfed car and die. Malorie is ushered into the house where she meets others who are hiding there: an Iraq war veteran and construction worker named Tom (Trevante Rhodes); Lydia’s curmudgeon husband Douglas (John Malkovich); grocery store clerk and writer Charlie (Lil Rel Howery), and elderly woman named Cheryl (Jacki Weaver); a police academy member named Lucy (Rosa Salazar); a tattoo-riddled pill-popper named Felix (Colson Baker) and Greg (BD Wong), the owner of the home. Eventually another young pregnant mother named Olympia (Danielle Macdonald) is allowed into the home.
Unfortunately, it becomes all too clear that the group will eventually run out of food without a supplies run. An attempt to see if the coast is clear by viewing the camera system leaves Greg dead – apparently, you can’t even look at this entity’s image on a computer screen without wanting to kill yourself. Tom, Malorie, Lucy and Douglas decide to use Greg’s car, secured by covering the windows and back-up camera with paint and newspaper, to get supplies from Charlie’s store, meaning he must come along. While at the store, Malorie finds some birds and decides to take them back to the house along with their supplies. Douglas suggests they stay at the store, but as they are arguing his logic, they hear someone pleading with them to let him in. They soon discover that there are those who have looked at the entity and have not committed suicide, but have a compulsive need to show others what they have seen…even if it kills them.
We flash back and forth from past to present as we are shown Malorie’s attempt to survive in this new post-apocalyptic world, hoping to bring her children to a place of safety where they can just learn how to be kids. But is there such a place…and how many loved ones will she lose along the way?
Okay, let’s start this review with a discussion of the premise and the many folks out there who are comparing Bird Box to other horror films out there like The Happening and A Quiet Place. I never saw The Happening, so I can’t speak to how similar some things may be to Bird Box, except for this: from what I read, The Happening has something to do with a neurotoxin and the events in Bird Box seem to be caused by an actual entity. As for A Quiet Place? There is an entity in both films and in both, noise may be an attracting factor. However, in A Quiet Place, you actually see the entity – you know what’s killing these people because it is actively ripping them to pieces or carrying them off. In Bird Box, if you are not mentally ill in some way and see the entity, you are going to kill YOURSELF. The entity doesn’t kill you, though it does try to get you to look at it, especially if you are one of the vulnerable sane folks.
There is one great similarity between Bird Box and A Quiet Place that I happened to love. In A Quiet Place, the creators of the film allowed us to experience the action as the hearing-impaired daughter would, taking away the sound for moments in the film so we could walk in her shoes. They do something similar in Bird Box, allowing us to experience what the blindfolded characters do by covering the camera lens and forcing us to use our other senses to understand what is going on around them.
Now let’s talk about the premise – the idea that seeing an entity will make you want to take your life and that various people see this entity in different ways is unique. If you paid attention throughout the film, the characters who do see this entity react in different ways. Malorie’s sister appeared to be terrified, whereas Douglas’ wife saw someone she needed to go to and be with. The folks that see the entity and don’t want to harm themselves all have some form of mental illness. Those people appear to worship this entity and the glimpse of that entity through the artwork of one of the “enlightened” individuals may be simply what HE sees and not what all the supposed enlightened see. I found that to be rather interesting.
The acting – I loved the acting. Sandra Bullock does an amazing job as always. I can honestly say that I haven’t seen a movie where Bullock did not perform to her fullest, but I think Bird Box is one of her better films. I love her in comedy, but I think Sandra Bullock does drama best and in this film, I was really convinced that she was Malorie, a young woman who has witnessed the destruction of life as she knows it who is determined to survive this new world with her children. But Sandra Bullock did not have the corner market in brilliant performances here. Though I enjoyed Trevante Rhodes and Danielle MacDonald in this film, John Malkovich really steals the show. He’s cantankerous and pessimistic, obnoxious and downright mean, and yet, there are times when he is really likeable. In the end, he proves to be heroic as well. Douglas is a great character and he must have been a joy for Malkovich to portray as complex as he is. And I have to give a shout out to Sarah Paulson whose role in this film is small compared to most, but whose performance is flawless. Paulson is an amazing and oft-underrated actress who deserves kudos for making us believe the terror she feels at what she has seen thanks to her facial expressions and those extremely expressive eyes.
Are there parts of Bird Box that I didn’t buy into? Sure, like any film, there are bound to be parts where you say, “Oh, come on!” Take the car ride to the grocery store for supplies, for example. Can this actually be done? I don’t think it can be done as successfully as they managed it in this film, especially since everyone was fleeing the area. In most apocalyptic films depicting mass exodus, the streets are cluttered with clusters of cars and debris. I find it hard to believe they could maneuver such obstacles so easily. I must confess my lack of satellite and GPS knowledge, but with no one to man or supervise the equipment, wouldn’t that stuff go down just like the power grid and other utilities? I also have to question Malorie’s willingness to attempt this river adventure with her kids. Knowing that there are people out there who have looked upon this entity and have not killed themselves, I would be worried that the person I was speaking to over the radio had nefarious intent. I also wonder how they managed to keep that radio powered up for five years with no electricity…unless it was battery-powered and they had ample stores of said batteries, which is highly doubtful. But back to that journey. The only reason Malorie would be more inclined to go on this journey is the speech Tom gave her about keeping the idea of hope for a better world open for their children. Perhaps that hope was infectious enough to make her want to try the journey…or maybe she just thought she had nothing else to lose. Me…I probably wouldn’t have tried it.
But my complaints are minor when compared to the enjoyment of watching this film. The acting was terrific, the premise a little off the charts, but quite interesting and the suspense was edge of your seat outstanding. I’ve been discussing Bird Box with everyone I meet and recommending it to anyone who hasn’t yet seen it. This Netflix film is definitely worth checking out!
Check out the novel Bird Box is adapted from at Amazon