Right now, when conversation turns to the best films of the year, and those films are so heavy on everyone’s minds, it is a little disconcerting to arrive at this movie which offers a similar scenario… but falls woefully short. Bird Box establishes a clever premise, then settles into a survivors-knocked-off-one-by-one scenario. It then spreads on some nonsensical motherhood themes (heavily), before bungling its climax to the point that the closing moments feel murky and unconvincing.
I have read more than a dozen reviews that compare Bird Box it to John Krasinski’s far superior A Quiet Place – and that’s not an entirely illogical comparison. Both films deal with a similar situation: your survival depends on you not doing something that is second-nature to you. Krasinski’s film posited the idea that you can’t make a sound. In Bird Box you can’t look at the monsters, or you will lose your mind. The earlier film was better constructed, and it gave us a better set of logical scenes. Bird Box is so badly constructed that find yourself in a state of frustration.
Example: The film opens with a scene of Sandra Bullock in the woods warning two children not to take off their blindfolds. Suddenly, the movie backs up five years to tell us how to we got to that point.
I HATE this device. It’s lazy and cheap, and it pulls me right out of the movie. There’s no point. How Bullock came into possession of these children doesn’t merit flashbacks. This could have been handled in dialogue. Consider the dead child that Bullock’s character mourned in Gravity. It was handled in some creative dialogue that built on the character. Bird Box isn’t that smart.
The flashbacks take place five years ago, when Bullock’s character, Malorie, was an unmarried pregnant mother with no maternal instincts parlaying doubts to her sister Jessica (Sarah Paulson) right before the world went to Hell. There’s a plague, or an alien invasion, or the rapture, or… something that causes people to see visions that make them commit suicide. We never really get the full picture of what we’re dealing with. What we get are a bunch of rag-tag survivors yelling at one another, then sharing tender moments when things calm down. You’ve seen it before.
Bird Box is based on a 2014 book by Josh Malerman, which I haven’t read, but I can assume that it works much better on the page. There, the visuals in our mind can create what the characters are going through. Here, director Susanne Bier creates good moments of tension – but they are broken up by a distracting flashback/flashforward narrative that wears us down. and a climax that runs for emotions rather than conclusions.
★★ (of four)