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Bird Box Movie Review

Bird Box (2018) movie poster Bird Box

Theatrical Release: December 13, 2018 / Running Time: 124 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Susanne Bier / Writers: Josh Malerman (novel), Eric Heisserer (screenplay)

Cast: Sandra Bullock (Malorie), Trevante Rhodes (Tom), John Malkovich (Douglas), Sarah Paulson (Jessica), Jacki Weaver (Cheryl), Rosa Salazar (Lucy), Danielle Macdonald (Olympia), Lil Rel Howery (Charlie), Tom Hollander (Gary), Colson Baker (Felix), BD Wong (Greg), Pruitt Taylor Vince (Rick), Vivien Lyra Blair (Girl), Julian Edwards (Boy), Parminder Nagra (Dr. Lapham), Rebecca Pidgeon (Lydia), Amy Gumenick (Samantha), Taylor Handey (Jason), Happy Anderson (River Man)


You can add the names of Sandra Bullock and Susanne Bier to the long and growing list of respected people in the industry who are on board with Netflix original movies being cinema.
The Academy Award-winning actress and seasoned Danish director join forces on Bird Box, which despite their pedigree, the Christmastime debut and awards-qualifying narrow theatrical window is more of a general interest release than a prestige one.

Adapted from the novel of the same name by Josh Malerman, this thriller opens with Bullock's protagonist Malorie cautioning a pair of young children she merely calls Boy and Girl about the dangers that await them on the blindfolded boat ride they are about to embark on. We then jump back five years to find Malorie pregnant. On a routine hospital visit, single artist Malorie and her sister Jessica (Sarah Paulson) become aware that the outbreak of mass human suicides in Europe and Russian that is all over the news has made its way to their hometown of Sacramento.

One must only take a look outside to suddenly be irreversibly compelled to end his or her life. While Jessica soon joins the afflicted, Malorie finds shelter in a ritsy suburban house. The place belongs to Greg (BD Wong), but his next door neighbor Douglas (John Malkovich) is the one calling the shots and holding the rifle. An abrasive bankruptcy lawyer, Douglas has an even larger than usual chip on his shoulder due to the fact that his third wife has just met a violent end in trying to usher Malorie to safety.

Tom (Trevante Rhodes), Malorie (Sandra Bullock), Boy (Julian Edwards), and Girl (Vivien Lyra Blair) are trying to stay alive in the apocalyptic thriller "Bird Box."

For now, with the windows all covered, these sequestered strangers seem protected from the harrowing apocalypse unfolding outside. The group includes the friendly Tom (Moonlight's Trevante Rhodes), grocer/aspiring doomsday novelist Charlie (Get Out's Lil Rel Howery), a police academy trainee (Rosa Salazar), an elderly woman (Jacki Weaver), a bleached blonde boy (Colson Baker, better known as rapper Machine Gun Kelly), and sheltered young pregnant woman Olympia (Danielle McDonald), who is due around the same time as Malorie.

With their resources dwindling, part of the group decides to make a short but perilous trip to Charlie's supermarket in a car whose windows have been painted black. Using the car's GPS to navigate and trying not to get too rattled by the "speed bumps" (a.k.a. dead bodies) they go over, the group makes it to the grocery store. It is there, basking in the untouched alcohol aisle, that Douglas points out that the group should simply stay inside the grocery store indefinitely. Alas, they do not, because there isn't much that's thrilling about staying safe among large quantities of nonperishable foods.

Bird Box jumps back and forth between this timeline and the other one set five years later. The ineffective nonlinearity frustrates, serving more to remove mystery with its apparent answers than heighten it by raising questions. Oh, plenty of questions still arise, mostly in regards to the plot's rules that are neither conveyed nor enforced with any grace. Natural light peeks in through the windows on a regular basis and yet everyone remains okay, despite the fact that even looking at security camera footage can be deadly in mere moments.

Obviously, much fiction, particularly in this genre, requires suspension of disbelief. But since this high concept drives the narrative at all times, you wish you didn't just have to accept the movie's flimsy codes. On the other hand, the natural light does result in superior cinematography to, say, the claustrophobic world of 10 Cloverfield Lane. But it's a different movie that Bird Box will draw comparisons to: 2018's highest-grossing and most acclaimed thriller, A Quiet Place. Bier's film will suffer from comparison to John Krasinski's original blockbuster, which left you arrested and immersed enough not to raise questions that might well be valid.

John Mlakovich plays Douglas. Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich...

The parallels between this and A Quiet Place are obvious and even though Malerman's book (his first) was published back in 2014, airs of derivation and déjà vu still exist here as a different sense is given power and peril. Bird Box is far less compelling and composed than Krasinski's, but it will be available at no additional cost to the more than 100 million paid subscribers of Netflix's streaming service and just as people are able to enjoy the mix of winter break's free time and, in much of the Northern Hemisphere, less than comfortable temperatures that make living rooms more inviting. Bird Box arrives almost exactly a year after the Will Smith/orc cop drama Bright debuted to huge viewership numbers.

Fortunately, though it has the problems I've detailed, this film is much better than last Christmas' big mainstream Netflix offering. While its finale is kind of groan-inducing, taking you where it seemed you'd eventually have to go,
Bird Box does have some quality moments and strong performances along the way. Bullock turns in her best work since her largely one-woman space show Gravity. And Malkovich, who is just a few "morons" away from resurrecting his Burn After Reading ex-CIA analyst, provides some sturdy comic relief and more sympathy than the script by Eric Heisserer (Lights Out, Arrival) realizes.

Bier has yet to turn her success in Europe, where she directed the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner In a Better World and nominee After the Wedding, into much of note in Hollywood. Despite starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper fresh off their glorious Silver Linings Playbook pairing, her 2014 movie Serena bombed in limited release. Her previous English language effort, 2007's Things We Lost in the Fire, didn't fare much better despite being better received. The serviceable direction Bier gives this could increase her value as a commercial filmmaker, if this was a commercially quantifiable release. The most notable choice Bier may make here is resisting the urge to present blindfolded scenes in darkness, which would have been a gimmick (and one already used on the 1960s Audrey Hepburn thriller Wait Until Dark), though it might well have enhanced the suspense and made this stand out.

Bird Box gets its unusual title from the fact that in this universe, tiny birds can sense and announce danger more readily than humans. Bullock and the two kids carry three of them with them on their dangerous journey.

Related Reviews:
2018 Netflix Originals: Roma • The Ballad of Buster Scruggs • 22 July | Now in Theaters: The Favourite • Creed II
Directed by Susanne Bier: In A Better World • Things We Lost in the Fire
Screenplays by Eric Heisserer: Lights Out • Arrival
A Quiet Place • It Comes at Night • 10 Cloverfield Lane • Blindness • Into the Forest
Sandra Bullock: Gravity • Our Brand Is Crisis • Ocean's Eight • Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close • Premonition
Trevante Rhodes: Moonlight • The Predator • 12 Strong | John Malkovich: Being John Malkovich • Deepwater Horizon

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Reviewed December 7, 2018.

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