Directed by Susanne Bier
Written by Eric Heisserer
Starring Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes and John Malkovich
Classification N/A; 124 minutes
Bird Box could easily be reduced to, “It’s A Quiet Place meets Blindness crossed with The Happening!” And that high-concept pitch wouldn’t exactly be wrong.
The film kicks off with the end of the world, as mysterious forces (supernatural or alien, it’s never explained) suddenly appear in our reality, causing whoever glimpses them to envision their worst fears. This inevitably leads victims to take their own lives, save for a handful of mentally unsound acolytes, who greet the visions with a religious fervour. Everyone else hoping to survive outdoors must walk around blindfolded, lest they catch glimpse of the malevolent forces. So far, so terrifying – if, yeah, a bit gimmicky. (The film is adapted from Josh Malerman’s 2014 novel, which predates A Quiet Place’s development by two years.)
But while Bird Box is wrapped up in a postapocalyptic-thriller guise, it’s more a cautious character study, with Danish director Susanne Bier (Brothers, AMC’s The Night Manager) zeroing in on a disparate crew of survivors holed up inside a dark suburban mansion, waiting for a rescue that’s not coming. There’s the paranoid jerk (John Malkovich), the comic relief (Lil Rel Howery), the sensitive alpha male (Trevante Rhodes) and the handy cage full of birds, who possess an extreme sensitivity to the evil lurking outside.
The focus, though, is mostly on Sandra Bullock’s pregnant artist Malorie, who doesn’t seem particularly excited about the developments inside her own body, but gradually turns into one of the most (justifiably) overprotective mothers the world will ever know.
As Bier cuts back and forth in time – at one point, we’re a few days after the dawn of “the Problem,” and minutes later, we’re five years in the future, in which things are much, much worse – we’re alternately riveted and disappointed, with the forward-looking plot sapping most of the tension away from the present-day goings on.
But whenever the characters venture outside – for reasons that may or may not make total sense – the horror is all-consuming. By the time the finale arrives, and an escape from “the Problem” looks just possibly within reach, you’ll feel the best kind of relief.
Bird Box begins streaming Dec. 21 on Netflix