Bird Box (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★
“Bird Box” is an unsettling horror-thriller with a solid budget and yet it is not spent on CGI to parade creatures that, when seen, inspires the onlooker to commit suicide. Instead, it is spent on hiring strong performers who are capable of underlining the dramatic gravity of this specific story and delivering the necessary emotions at a drop of a hat. It is also spent on showcasing mass chaos where vehicles crash onto one another, people being set on fire, and other gruesome ways to die. The creature or entity remains invisible throughout the film’s running time but they remain to be a threat. It is the antithesis of M. Night Shyamalan’s dreadful “The Happening,” another film with an invisible enemy, because there is convincing humanity at the core of it.
The film is based on the novel of the same name by Josh Malerman. There is a literal bird box and a metaphorical bird box. In the literal bird box, birds go crazy when the mysterious entity is around. In the metaphorical bird box, a house, people panic and make jaw-dropping mistakes—on purpose or by accident—when, too, the creature is nearby. Mistakes cost lives and we are reminded of this fact nearly every step of the way.
We experience the story through Sandra Bullock who plays the pregnant Malorie. After a terrible car accident, she ends up in a house with a group of strangers (John Malkovich, Trevante Rhodes, Jacki Weaver, BD Wong, to name a few) with many opinions of what they should do next given that help is unlikely to come to them. Those familiar with survival, post-apocalyptic stories already know that they must perish before she does. It is all a matter of order. Still, there is the tension because director Susanne Bier takes enough moments to humanize big personalities. It requires a confident juggling act. Even the pessimist (Malkovich) is given a short but precious opportunity to connect with our protagonist in a meaningful way.
Another layer of complication is the current timeline in which Malorie must make her way down a dangerous river with two children in tow. All three must wear blindfolds because one glance at the creature means certain death. Events inside the house occurred five years prior to the desperate trip downriver. And yet both timelines are engaging in different ways. For instance, the horror inside the house is a slow burn, really highlighting the conflict among the cast of survivors. The horror out in the wilderness is immediate and even gut-wrenching at times. Because the material is so unforgiving, we believe eventually that not all three may live before the end credits.
The picture’s weakness is its insistence on pushing smaller personalities to the side. A case can be made that it is necessary given the time constraints of the medium. Perhaps it is better off as a mini-series so that every character can get the spotlight. In the middle of it, I wondered more than once whether the overall work might have been stronger if certain
characters were omitted for the sake of flow and truly streamlining the dynamics of the survivors in the house. For instance, Danielle Macdonald plays a pregnant woman named Olympia, but unlike her counterpart with child, she is less strong in mind, spirit, and physicality. This fact is acknowledged between them, but I would have appreciated more depth in their friendship. Perhaps having less characters could have paved the way for further exploration of this important relationship.
Still, “Bird Box” offers consistent mid- to high-level entertainment. In less intelligent and risk-taking hands, it could very well have turned into a bore less than halfway through. We have all seen horror films where characters end up being stuck in a house because of some killer or creature, and many of them ending up truly awful. This one moves forward at a good pace. Dull moments are uncommon but almost always carried by capable performances.