Synopsis – Five years after an ominous unseen presence drives most of society to suicide, a mother and her two children make a desperate bid to reach safety.
My Take – There is no denying of the fact that the year 2018 was quite revolutionary for Netflix‘s original film offerings. While they continued to release their usual set of B flicks, cheesy holiday films and obnoxious studio dumps, they also found wide spread acclaim with films like ‘Roma’, ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’, ‘Set It Up’ and ‘Annihilation’. In order to add more icing to an already sugar filled cake, the streaming giant ended up releasing this post-apocalyptic horror, with the talented and charismatic Sandra Bullock in the lead, and helmed by Emmy winner Susanne Bier, who recently directed the limited series adaption of author John le Carré‘s The Night Manager.
Reportedly raking in 45 million viewers in the 1st week itself, the film also has become a trending topic on Twitter and has inevitably gave birth to many memes. Adapted from the 2014 novel of the same name by Josh Malerman, the film has also drawn comparisons to John Krasinski‘s ‘A Quiet Place’, for they both share a similar premise, and exchange the emphasis of no sound with no sight. While the similarities may not stop there, I nevertheless found this film a tense if rather flawed entry in the genre. Thanks to Bier‘s proficient direction the film manages to hold your attention and lets your imagination run wild, as well as spark a ticker of running questions while you’re engrossed with what’s happening on screen.
Sure it is woefully predictable at times, but the concept of/mystery behind the supernatural force is exactly what elevates the film from yet another dramatic good-vs-evil blockbuster and becomes a vehicle for Sandra Bullock to show off how she can be a badass when she wants to be. This is the kind of film that you can watch and enjoy and you’ll probably forget about when the next film comes along, as not every film can be ‘A Quiet Place.’
Running between two timelines, the story follows Malorie Hayes (Sandra Bullock) in a now post-apocalyptic world, where she with her two young children named, boy (Julian Edwards) and girl (Vivien Lyra Blair), are escaping from their home, in blindfolds, on a boat down a river on a two day trip to find themselves a shelter in the form of a safe haven.
Five years ago, a pregnant Malorie on her way back from the hospital with her sister, Jessica (Sarah Paulson), found herself in the middle of a mysterious environmental disaster, which sees everyone exhibiting psychotic behavior and committing suicides, as soon as they see an unnamed, unknowable thing. In the mass hysteria, Malorie finds herself pulled into a house with a couple of strangers which include Tom (Trevante Rhodes), Douglas (John Malkovich), Greg (BD Wong), Felix (Colson Baker), Cheryl (Jacki Weaver), Lucy (Rosa Salazar), Charlie (Lil Rel Howery) and are later joined by the naive and very pregnant Olympia (Danielle Macdonald).
Together the group look for various means of possibilities to survive, which includes debating over letting anyone else inside, and what they would do when food runs out.
Following its strong, dramatic opening, the film sucks you in and never let’s go. Its flashing back and forward between past and present provides an intriguing frame – you are desperate to know how Malorie and the children arrived at this point. The film is less reliant on jump scares than on a slow-buildup of dread. At over two hours of running time, it is quite long, but it ably maintains intensity throughout. As the life-or-death stakes get higher, so too do the emotional stakes, and don’t be surprised if there are parts that get you a little teary.
This is a film that is filled with questions: What is this entity? What are people seeing that makes them want to kill themselves? (There are people shooting themselves, walking in front of a moving truck, and one lady simply sat in a burning car because she seemed to have seen her mother in there.) Why do their eyes turn into a crawling, unfolding black mess upon sight? Will you die if you look at entity through a filler (like a camera lens or CCTV footage?). Is surviving the same as living? (The last one forms the crux of an emotional climax). Who they are and what they want is never fully explained as the film seems more interested in its characters’ reactions to the horrors of their world than it is in explaining exactly what brought them about. T
his is the sort of film that makes you feel like you’re taking that journey along with Malorie. It’s a terrifying, engaging thriller where the open-ended questions don’t bother you but allow you to come to your own conclusions.
I personally, loved the fact that we never see the monster, since it’s not so much an entity as it is an effect. Like A Quiet Place and the underrated Stephen King adaption The Mist, much of the film’s terror comes not from the monstrous beings outside but rather from the altogether more human ones inside, as fear and distrust become entrenched. Here, director Bier handles these mounting tensions effectively, as the paranoid Douglas clashes with the more level-headed members of the group.
Another sequence that stands out from the past timeline is where the house inhabitants make their way to an abandoned supermarket to get more supplies. They black out the windows and rely on GPS to find their way. This is the first time the group has ventured out of the house since thousands have killed themselves. The entities are still out there, and you are made well aware of it through growl sounds, a play of light and wind. This timeline has more meat to chew on. You have characters to root for, and a palpable sense of doom. The camerawork is fidgety and background music eerie. Something big is coming, you feel.
While this is fine, at over two hours, this first timeline taking up most of it, the whole thing, after a points, begins to feel a little repetitive. And the bluntness might have been less noticeable if the film weren’t pulling from the same post-apocalyptic playbook that we’ve seen a million times before. For example, a mysterious radio signal, a budding romance, anxiety about becoming a parent, a mistrustful grump, an over-trusting sweetheart, a mostly invisible, alien presence; every piece of the puzzle is there.
But thankfully, just when things begin to get a little too conventional or familiar, we flash forward to Malorie’s journey five years later, masterfully ratcheting up the tension as she and her children desperately trying to locate a sanctuary, fending off everything from roaring rapids to a suspicious guy offering his help to the unmistakable presence of that unseen force — all while trying to resist the urge to take off those blindfolds. One can’t help but feel satisfied at the journey on which director Bier has taken us.
As always, Sandra Bullock shows that she can easily carry a film. Here, she delivers one of her best performances as the blunt and pragmatic and no-nonsense Malorie, who in the first scene itself is seen barking orders at two children before they embark on a treacherous, quite possibly life-threatening journey down a choppy river. Even though, she has a very small role, it’s delightful to see Sarah Paulson pair up again with her Ocean’s Eight co-star.
In supporting roles, Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich and BD Wong deliver some beautiful nuances in their scenes together. While Lil Rel Howery, Danielle Macdonald, Rosa Salazar, Colson Baker and Jacki Weaver also add well into the mix. The two very young actors Julian Edwards and Vivien Lyra Blair are also heartbreakingly brilliant. Tom Hollander, Parminder Nagra, David Dastmalchian and Pruitt Taylor Vince also appear in cameos. On the whole, ‘Bird Box’ is a flawed yet gripping post-apocalyptic film with enough thrills and drama to keep you hooked till the end.
Directed – Susanne Bier
Rated – R
Run Time – 124 minutes