Directed by: Susanne Bier
Written by: Eric Heisserer
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich, Danielle Macdonald
As much as one wants to prepare, nothing can adequately make someone ready to be a mother more than the experience itself. In regular circumstances, it can be a difficult transition, but add all of the monstrous action taking place in Bird Box and it makes it so much worse. A thread that flows throughout the film yet fails to come to fruition through the lackluster source material.
In a world where using one’s eyes can get them killed, Malorie (Sandra Bullock) must protect her two children from an unknown enemy. With the little known of it, one thing she comprehends is that looking at them will only cause death, thus relying on other senses to survive.
Coming out in the same year as A Quiet Place made Bird Box the second film in a span of months to cover people trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world where senses become key to their survival. Bird Box certainly made some noise, but it ultimately felt like a lesser attempt at this style of storytelling than the one that came before it, which comes down to its story. I appreciate ambiguity and how it leaves things to the imagination of the viewer, but when it came to the monsters, the lack of any structure to fear took away from the terror we’re meant to have for the humans.
What could be discerned through the story and the experiences of Mallorie is these creatures cause death when looked upon by humans. Characters theorize that gazing upon these creatures causes a person to see their worst nightmare, which causes them to kill themselves in the process. Something that would be horrifying in its own right if it weren’t for M. Night Shyamalan stripping away all of its horror in his abysmal The Happening. The shock factor no longer exists and it leaves the true horror to rely on fanaticism causing the real damage. As with most post-apocalyptic stories, the main stories permeating through show that humans become the worst monsters when resources are depleted and order dissipates. Bird Box follows a similar trajectory, but in a way that fails to make sense, as there is no proper explanation of anything happening. Sure, the metaphor of others forcing others to see something means something, but when the subject people avert their eyes not to see in order to survive has no tangible purpose, it all rings rather hollow in my estimations.
This lack of substance had this film doomed from the start, which Susanne Bier attempts to save with her directorial choices. She creates moments of tension in the story and builds the severity of the situation, even if she was restricted on the lengths because of the material she had to produce. One of the great Danish filmmakers who has made her way into the American mainstream after applying her trade in Denmark for years, and making her best feature, After the Wedding. Bird Box stands as the first film of hers in the English language I have seen and I felt underwhelmed as you can imagine. This story lacked the emotional fortitude her other features excel in producing. The emotional thread meant to keep the audience caring for the dull world happens to be Malorie’s journey to motherhood.
Malorie certainly did not have the best attitude before giving birth to her child, even calling it a “condition” when still pregnant. It may medially be a term, but most happy pregnant folks would not classify it as such. Throughout her journey of survival, she’s tasked with protecting these children from harm, and her journey in not letting them die informs her path to accepting her motherhood. None of it happens to be subtle and while it comes together by the end, I did not feel connected to this character in her journey. Sandra Bullock surely tried her best with the character but I found Mallorie to not be very interesting as a person to follow. This predicament would not matter as much if the world and backdrop of the character made up for it, which in the case of Bird Box it did not.
The moments depicting the power of these creatures show people killing themselves in gruesome ways, which includes walking out in front of a truck, entering a burning car, stabbing themself in the neck, and a slew of other methods. All of them appear to be gruesome and certainly display graphic content, but it falls short of having any tangible resonance because the characters that suffer this fate don’t get the opportunity to become someone to care for except for one. It leaves those death scenes just being exhibitions of gruesome ways to watch people die, which already happened in that terrible Shyamalan film.
While it took over social media when it first dropped on Netflix, it appears Bird Box produced nothing but smoke with no real fire underneath it all. The story lacks substance the director could not save even with her mightiest efforts, which leaves for a dull viewing experience. The idea of blindfolding everyone to survive may be a good way to live in that world, but I only wish it happened to me so I did not choose to watch this film.