REVIEW: “Bird Box”

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Arguably the weirdest titled movie of 2018 has debuted on Netflix and with quite a bit of attention. According to the streaming giant “Bird Box” has been watched by 45 million accounts making it the “best first 7 days ever for a Netflix film.” Skeptics notwithstanding, those are pretty impressive numbers especially for a usually tight-lipped company.

“Bird Box” is a genre stew featuring slices of horror, psychological drama, science-fiction, and end-of-the-world thrillers. It’s based on Josh Malerman’s 2014 debut novel of the same name and adapted to screen by Oscar nominated screenwriter Eric Heisserer (“Arrival”). Danish director Susanne Bier is tasked with corralling it all together and she manages it with a satisfying effectiveness.

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The film opens with a mother named Malorie (Sandra Bullock) giving strict instructions to two children as they prep for a dangerous trek up a river. The three blindfold themselves before feeling their way to a fiberglass rowboat. After a few more pointed warnings they begin the treacherous journey upstream.

Flashback to five years earlier. A terrifying unknown presence surfaces causing anyone who lays eyes on it to suddenly kill themselves. Malorie, now pregnant and a soon to be single mother, finds herself holed up in a house with an assortment of strangers all trying to make sense of the rampant death and chaos.

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“Bird Box” bounces back-and-forth between the present day river scenes and the flashbacks which reveal what led Malorie to that point. Most of that time is spent in the house where survivors battle fear and uncertainty as supplies begin to run out and new survivors show up. A talent-rich supporting cast fill out the group. There’s Tom (Trevante Rhodes), Douglas (John Malkovich), Cheryl (Jackie Weaver), Olympia (Danielle Macdonald), and Charlie (Lil Rey Howery) among others.

Parenting is a central theme and we see it from both literal and metaphorical angles. When it works it’s mostly due to a stellar performance from Bullock who hasn’t lost a step and shows she can still navigate an intense range of emotions. But it’s not always easy to keep the theme in focus especially when the film stumbles into some familiar genre trappings. There is clearly a thematic throughline, but you never lose sight that this is very much a genre(s) movie.

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The film’s opening 20 minutes are its best, introducing its terrifying unseen threat that is undeniably menacing yet intentionally undefined. It turns society upside-down much like the killer first scenes of 2013’s “World War Z” yet on a smaller scale. Bier builds plenty of suspense and then carries it over to the film’s more character-focused house segment. Some of the characters work better than others. Rhodes is a standout. Malkovich is very John Malkovich-like. Weaver is sadly lost in the crowd.

“Bird Box” runs the gambit from riveting to predictable to kinda silly. At the same time it’s never boring and the performances are always worth watching. The convergence of survival and motherhood within such a sinister setting is a cool concept and Bullock wonderfully fleshes it out for us. She’s the movie’s backbone and even when the story sputters at times she puts it on her back and carries it to finish line.

VERDICT – 3.5 STARS

3-5-stars

20 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Bird Box”

    • The viewing figures were a surprise. I’m sure they have some way of measuring viewers but they have always been pretty quiet when it comes to releasing numbers. They seem to be pretty proud of this one though.

      So not for you?

  1. My only interest about this film is the fact that it’s scored by Trent and Atticus of NIN. That is it. I don’t really care about anything else about the film unless it comes on TV for some weird reason.

    • It’s fun but hardly monumental. I do think Bullock is really good here. Funny you mention their score. Immensely talented musicians but their score didn’t stand out at all to me. Very unusual for those guys.

  2. What a surprise Bird Box was! I really enjoyed it. Something you touched on that I completely missed in my review is the under utilization of the other actors. You mentioned Weaver, and I certainly agree that all of them should’ve been given to chance to contribute more.

    • It was a nice surprise, wasn’t it? I honestly wasn’t that excited for it, but I was engaged the entire time. And how about Sandra Bullock. She hasn’t missed a step.

  3. “Bird Box” runs the gambit from riveting to predictable to kinda silly.

    Okay, so this gives me pause to reconsider seeing it given your positive rating. The silly part for me is people being compelled to off themselves by staring at some apparently horrible thing. That makes me want to roll my eyes, but then if Sandra Bullock is good in it that’s enough for me. Added it to my list

    • Bullock is really, really good! As for being compelled to end it all, yep that’s pretty silly. To their credit they don’t give you much time to think about it. It’s actually a fun movie. Hardly revolutionary, but worth a watch.

    • Thanks man. I was mainly drawn to the cast but ended up having more fun with the movie than I expected. It doesn’t quite make my top tier of Netflix Originals but you’re right, it’s so much better than much of the stuff they churn out.

  4. I have always been a fan of end of world type movies . Although I tire of zombies !! Even when I was a kid , I recall writing a story of nuclear war in grade 5 and all the world was set a fire . My teacher , who liked the story , thought I was pretty dark . The first book I ever read in the Bible was Revelation , so these type of movies always get my attention .
    So with all that , I was very pleasantly surprised other all how effective this movie was . Bullock , as you said , truly anchors this movie so strong , that even when it trips at times, your still invested . Plus I thought the first 20 mins was thrilling and gripping as well . Another thing I liked was we never see these “demons” as I like to call them . It made the mystery of the them more compelling . So far this is the strongest original Netflix movie I have seen .
    The comparisons to A Quiet Place , are there , and it is not as good as that movie but it was very gripping and had me all the way to the end. So I would rate it 3 and a half horsemen of the Apocalypse out of 4 . Once again excellent and thoughtful review.

  5. Totally agree with you that the first 20 minutes were the best bit! As much as I usually love films that Sandra Bullock stars in, I can’t say I loved this one. Got very tedious towards the end…

    • It really did start with a bang. I like the character development between bullock and Paulson. And it does a good job setting up the threat. It does take a pretty dramatic turn though, doesn’t it?

  6. What a level-headed review of this movie. My feelings on it are much the same yours. It’s pretty good overall, but not the greatest thing ever, as Netflix and social media would have you believe. Nor is it the worse, as all the knee-jerk reactors have been saying. It’s a good, flawed film with excellent work from Bullock and Rhodes, and a nice helping of Malkovich being Malkovich.

    • Thanks my friend. You sum it up well. And you bring up a good point. There isn’t much middle ground with this movie, is there? Overall I had fun with it despite some obvious flaws.

  7. There sure was a lot of hype about this one, but I’ve noticed that over time the reviews have become a bit less fervent. I’m probably one of the few people in North American who hasn’t yet seen this, but your review has convinced me to watch this week to see what all the hype’s about. I’ll be back to compare notes. 🙂

    • Look forward to hearing your thoughts. While it’s certainly not a game-changer, I had fun with it. Especially enjoyed Sandra Bullock who hasn’t missed a step.

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