Bird Box is a fun film with some intense scenes of unseen Lovecraftian terrors; however, it's often about as generic as one can get with an apocalypse film, and that tends to cheapen its thrills.
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Bird Box, Netflix’s most recent offering to streaming masses, appears from trailers to be a direct clone of John Krasinski’s wildly successful thriller A Quiet Place, operating under the same assumption many Italian producers from the ’70s and ’80s had: copy a compelling storyline, replace one portion of it to give it a needed change so no one could claim copyright infringement, and run with it. However, once viewers peep on Bird Box‘s final experience, it becomes clear that director Susanne Bier’s adaptation of Josh Malerman’s novel is not just a cut-and-paste job replacing a lack of one of the senses for another; it’s actually a mash-up of many different apocalypse films, with A Quiet Place‘s lack of sense, the human component of Blindness, the societal aftermath of zombie outbreaks, the monster threats of The Mist… well, you get the gist. Bird Box isn’t a surprisingly original film; it is, however, still a good byproduct of all the listed components.
The film has a large list of stars, its biggest being Sandra Bullock playing the main protagonist Malorie, a woman who, at the start of the film, is pregnant and not exactly happy about the situation. Quickly the main plot of Bird Box takes shape, though kept appropriately mysterious: an outbreak of suicides has started all over the world, seemingly when a person observes something in the distance. As Bird Box begins, the threat manifests itself in Malorie’s city, and she’s forced to hole up with a group of other survivors as the whole world goes to shit outside.
The premise is, effectively, the same as most apocalyptic thrillers. The cast of characters, too, is about as generic as a film like this can get. The house includes Douglas (John Malkovich), a staunchly unsympathetic character that basically wants to wall himself off from any other survivors because resources are running low; Tom (Trevante Rhodes), the absolutely ripped hero who becomes Malorie’s love interest as the two get to know each other; Olympia (Danielle Macdonald), another pregnant woman who happens to have the exact same due date as Malorie; and a bunch of other people who are basically background fodder for death scenes (Lil Rel Howery, Rosa Salazar, Machine Gun Kelly). One of Bird Box‘s biggest flaws is sticking to the same old character tropes; for a film that wants to showcase the importance of working together, of seeing through others’ eyes when vision is taken away, Bier spends far too little time actually developing these people into likable human beings. Ultimately, most of Bird Box is spent on Malorie and her constant battle with her own unborn child, Tom, and Douglas – who becomes the film’s go-to antagonist because of his one-dimensional views.
From here, though, Bird Box does conjure up some exciting sequences. One in particular finds the group heading to the local grocery store, driving with completely tinted windows so they aren’t able to see the monsters that are invisibly marauding through town. And Bier’s use of tension is palpable during the moments when the apocalypse is just beginning, with Sarah Paulson doing a lot of the work reacting to an unseen menace that prompts her to step in front of a speeding vehicle. The scenes of visceral violence, and the reactions to the unseen monsters, keep Bird Box from becoming overly cliched; Bier’s decision not to show the monsters offers up something akin to the Lovecraftian mythos, implying that these creatures are so inhuman that anyone seeing them goes insane.
Malorie’s thematic storyline, too, is where Bird Box manages its best work. Bullock’s emotional weight is palpable as the film switches back and forth between her past, pre-children, and her present attempting to blindly navigate a dangerous river in order to find safety at the end of it. Here is where Bird Box‘s commonalities to A Quiet Place begin: trapped in the wilderness, with children, Malorie is forced to recognize that what she’s doing really originates thanks to her love of both her children, one of whom she has adopted. That theme is pretty trite and explicit, with Bier constantly coming back to Malorie’s fears of being a mother; but it’s a good way to craft the unseen monsters into a metaphor for those nagging questions of dread all humans have, unable to foresee where the future will take them.
Bird Box is an entertaining, sometimes even poignant, movie. But it is far from groundbreaking, an issue that Bier can never quite get past. Its similarities to A Quiet Place are perhaps even less appropriate than the fact that it’s basic components stem from many movies that have done this kind of thing before. But audiences able and willing to look past the generic qualities should find a film about parenthood that pecks at a similar, if more explicit, crumb of an idea that made The Babadook so popular.
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