Review: Bird Box on Netflix

Review: Bird Box on Netflix

by Alan Grant
article from Wednesday 9, January, 2019

Bird Box, the Netflix movie that became more popular than the big guy in the red suit over Christmas, is an apocalyptic story in which an unseen force causes anyone (in story, naturally) who sees it to kill themselves – sometimes in darkly comic ways – and eventually wipes the population. In addition to a flashback story detailing how society crumbled, we follow a woman and two young children on a tense mission to find safety along a river. The hook, and main source of tension, draws on the need for characters to obscure their vision and use birds as sensors to indicate when the siren-like “creatures” are nearby. The rules and stakes are clear and well-established; if you take off your blindfold and see whatever is chasing you – you will die by your own hand.

There’s something unsettling about Bird Box, in a non-obvious way. It’s been a while since the component parts of any big budget movie I’ve seen have contained so much generic formula borrowed from other, more innovative, films – the filmographies of George A. Romero and Danny Boyle in particularly are plundered thoroughly to put this smash hit together.

The clichéd building blocks are evident from the start. Bird Box opens with a looming apocalypse based and quickly becomes a ‘bunch of strangers locked in a dwelling’ zombie movie sans zombies, complete with disastrous foraging for supplies and ‘do we let an unknown survivor in?’ set pieces before too long. While this provides our set up, the current story thread is effectively an escort mission borrowed from almost every AAA video game release of the current console generation – NPC child support character(s) intact.

Therefore, given that the Bird Box is entirely constructed of clichéd timber, one might reasonably expect it to be dull, boring, and lifeless.

However, this is far from the truth – Bird Box is a great example of what happens when filmmakers know what they’re doing with established elements and put everything in an effective way. Sure, it might be stuff we’ve seen before and are very familiar with but it’s been polished until it gleams and put together by people who really know how to treat an audience to something thrilling. This is perhaps its strongest point – it doesn’t try to do anything else.

Director Susanne Bier’s trademark efficiency and capability are on full display, turning Eric Heisserer’s screenplay (adapted from the book of the same name by Josh Malerman) into a tight two hours without any padding or wasted space. She also paces the two story threads brilliantly, never allowing the audience to get bored or too comfortable with anything, which helps with the sense of tension and confusion the film creates. We always know enough to be scared or tense, but never enough to feel comfortable.

Bird Box is also incredibly well cast. Sandra Bullock has rarely been more impressive than she is here, bringing emotional range and top-notch timing to the role of Malorie – the maternal figure charged with escorting two young children along a river in search of safety. She is ably supported by Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich, and Jacki Weaver – all of whom are on top form. British actor Tom Hollander also makes a welcome contribution to the film, despite his character being the most clichéd of the bunch and really little more than a MacGuffin, as he manages to put a dark twist on his reliable ability to be adorably helplessness.

If there are problems with Bird Box, it’s ironically because we don’t see enough of it. A couple of promising characters don’t get sufficient room to do much apart from exhibit a single character trait and a lack of context might spoil the experience for some viewers. Also, without wishing to spoil it, the ending might be overly twee and saccharine for some folks – it certainly bordered on it for me. One reveal near the end of particular came close to shattering the sense of immersion that the last two hours had spent building up.

However, as previously mentioned, Bird Box is still a very solid offering and indicative of Netflix’ ability to deliver big concept projects well. If a solidly put together package of well-trodden touchstones with which most thriller or horror fans will be familiar sounds like fun to you then Bird Box is very much worth whatever fraction of your Netflix subscription it turns out to have cost. Give it a go.

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