Bird Box (2018)
At the time I saw this I have not yet seen A Quiet Place. That is definitely on my list of movies to see, but I take it that Bird Box, at least for those who just know the premise and have not really paid too much attention to the movie itself, automatically got slagged as a copy. We'll see on that, but when I first started hearing about it I was afraid it was going to be a remake of The Road with blindfolds.
Well, that's not entirely true. I had not idea what this was when it popped up on Netflix. I thought it was another series of some sort, and I eventually end up taking a chance on Netflix and Hulu series whenever I run out of my normal things I watch. Then came the memes - something else I was unaware of but, always having to know what is going on, I found out that this was actually a post-apocalyptic story. Still thought it would be The Road with blindfolds, as I was not really expecting a lot of backstory. Really, I became curious about invisible monsters and trying to make a dangerous journey without relying on a key sense.
The fear, then, is seeing the monsters - or a the twist ending being the same one from The Village.
Malorie (Sandra Bullock) is a withdrawn artist who finds herself pregnant by an ex-roommate. Pretty much sure she doesn't want to be a mother, she never-the-less is carrying the baby to term. After a routine visit to her obstetrician (Parminder Nagra) with her sister (Sarah Paulson) along for support, the world goes crazy. Events begin in Romania and Russia, but soon spread, with people seemingly committing suicide out of nowhere.
The main story focuses on Malorie and two children, Boy (Julian Edwards) and Girl (Vivien Lyra Blair) that are in her care. Five years after the initial events they attempt a journey along the Smith River to a promised safe community. Unfortunately, it's a 48-hour journey, including a section of rapids, that they must navigate blindfolded. Most people who see the monsters try to immediately kill themselves, but a select few (mainly those with pre-existing mental illnesses) tend instead to remark upon their beauty, going as far to accost others and force them to see.
Through flashbacks we see the early days as Malorie takes refuge in a mansion with a number of survivors who, through failure to stick together or just make good decisions, either die or go off on their own. After the birth of the children, Malorie leaves with her lover Tom (Trevante Rhodes) to survive as a family unit.
The story is quite simple on the surface, combining both the idea of a treacherous journey with a mild bit of the siege on a house of survivors story. While I can understand much of the criticism for what happens in the home (which is also the wellspring of many of the memes), I think that the way this situation is portrayed is much more realistic. Two people leave, never to be heard from again, but in many ways getting out of what is a dysfunctional set-up was probably a better survival tactic than sticking around waiting for what would have been the inevitable blow-up between Malorie and the alcoholic Douglas (John Malkovich). The other pregnant woman, Olympia (Danielle McDonald) may be frustratingly naive at letting in almost anybody, but at least her decisions result in a situation that was not as predictable as the usual standoff between the two alphas.
The other surprise is that having kids in a movie, unless they're creepy little ghosts, is usually nothing more than an annoyance or something to move the plot along (World War Z glaringly comes to mind). For the most part the kids, surprisingly, do what Malorie tells them to do, accept when their own need to have an adult for survival overcomes their need to follow said adult's orders. They are an immense part of an underlying plot that goes beyond the simple situations that happen on screen. Both the child actors are restrained in their performances, and it's quite refreshing.
I have not seen Sandra Bullock in a movie in quite awhile. She was one of the few I had a crush on in my 20s (largely due to Demolition Man) but that I began to ignore as she seemed to be more interested after awhile in romantic comedies. What surprises me after all these years is that, despite so many bad choices in movie roles, she has grown to be a much better actress than I remember. Since she was someone I largely associated with b-movie action flicks that was never really a factor, but obviously much of her experience with playing "girl next door" types when she was younger has translated into her being able to give an intense performance without overdoing it.
As for the supporting actors, I wish John Malkovich had been given more to do than just the two-dimensional feces-stirrer that every home siege movie seems to have, but he plays his part well. Lil Rel Howery, who made a big impact in Get Out, is back again as comic relief but in not such an over-the-top way. I hope that he gets to play something other than comic relief in horror and action films in the future, as I have the feeling he has some serious acting ability that has yet to reach its potential.
As for Susanne Bier's direction, it is obvious much of the tone was taken from The Road, but she is great at filming lush scenes on a river as well as streets full of decaying bodies. And, yes, this is something I commend Bird Box for. Most movies of this type seem to be devoid of something quite obvious in the cities ravaged by plagues, monsters or nuclear war - corpses. One of the most memorable scenes is an attempt to get to a grocery store for supplies, in a blacked-out SUV using only the GPS system and proximity sensors, and trying to convince themselves that they're just hitting curbs and speed bumps.
I also commend Bier for not showing the monsters. I guess there was a design made, at studio insistence, and it was so ridiculous that Sandra Bullock burst out laughing when she saw it. We see some drawings of different forms the creatures may take, but nothing more. While I have the suspicion that they purposely designed something ludicrous so the studio suits would get off their back, there was really no reason to ever show the monsters at all. It's enough that they truly exist and are not just some mass hallucination or hysteria. While a movie like Night of the Demon manages to still be better than 90 percent of its contemporaries despite having to make the compromise and show the monster at the end, Bird Box walks such a fine line of belief suspension (especially since it makes a point of not explaining in detail everything that is going on) that seeing what is there would be anticlimactic - especially since no one who survives, or that we are rooting for, should actually see them in the first place.
Inevitably, this movie is getting a bit too much support and a bit too much hate, largely from it growing from a moderately budgeted Netflix original into an internet sensation. It manages to capture the mood of a number of better movies, while still carving out its own niche and, for the most part, standing with them. It's not outrageous enough to float into cult status like Bright, but it is one of the better Netflix original movies and may grow in reputation once much of the furor dies down.
Bird Box (2018)
Time: 124 minutes
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Julian Edwards, Vivien Lyra Blair, Trevonte Rhodes
Director: Susanne Bier