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Since John Krasinski's A Quiet Place recently explored the terrifying journey of a family in an apocalyptic world through an unnerving assault of the senses, at first glance Netflix's Bird Box seemed to be an exploration along the same vein. While the two 2018 releases are bound to be placed side-by-side due to their passing similarities, Bird Box is a completely different walk in the woods.
It's difficult to settle into Bird Box because it flutters between typical survival horror mechanisms and muddled allegorical sci-fi. This makes the audience feel just as blindfolded as to where Bird Box is going as the characters in the movie. It makes for a peculiarly entertaining ride -- strangely comical and fun at times, intensely horrifying in others but ultimately anchored in Sandra Bullock's strong emotional presence on screen.
The Netflix-produced movie centers on Bullock as Malorie, a defiantly pregnant woman who is thrust into the chaos of a world plagued with unexplained mass suicides triggered by one look at an unseen presence. After going with her sister (Sarah Paulson) to a routine ultrasound appointment, they are soon surrounded by people affected by this terror, causing flaming car crashes and hysteria on their drive home.
Malorie's sister falls victim to the mysterious threat while she is driving them both, and loses her focus as her eyes are darkened when she sees it. Despite Malorie's efforts to gain control of the car, the sister crashes, and then commits suicide when she intentionally walks in front of bus. Amidst the turmoil, Malorie comes across a safe house full of survivors like herself who also managed to look away from the ominous presence that left the town in complete destruction. They all hide there.
Bird Box then leans into its horror elements as an unlikely bunch and talented cast members gather, including Moonlight's Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich, Jacki Weaver, Rosa Salazar, Danielle Macdonald, Lil Rey Howery, Machine Gun Kelly and BD Wong. Together, they struggle to survive, work with one another and their numbers start to shrink as the presence follows closely outside their door.
Often, the Bird Box plot moves to a timeline five years ahead, where Malorie is a fearless survivor guiding two children through a river while wearing blindfolds, which later converges into the conclusion of the film. As the movie jumps back and forth between the past and the future, it's not difficult to loosely fill in the gaps of the fate of the other characters, but that's not to say watching the reveals isn't entertaining to discover.
However, what we're strapped into in the beginning of Bird Box doesn't quite match up with what happens next as the movie's intended "deeper meaning" is introduced though never completely explored to be completely grasped. Whether it's intended to be some sort of religious allegory, commentary on mental health or lazy attempt to move the story along --it feels unclear, and the movie suffers for it. However, it should be noted that Bird Box is based on a 2014 novel by Josh Malerman with the same title, and book adaptations can fall victim to feeling like they have missing pieces or are up to interpretation.
Additionally, it's tough to turn an eye to the overall weakness of Bird Box's script that makes the concept come off as kind of comical at times when its intensity first starts to build. I mean much of the film has the characters wearing blindfolds and clumsily walking around -- it's tough to take it seriously the whole time because it's an inherently funny thing to watch.
I think this happens because at the beginning of Bird Box stumbles in establishing the world of the film through a quick news brief. From there, it suddenly places the characters in the world -- it tells when it should show, making it feel much more like the characters jumped on a Hollywood set than seamlessly flowing with the story being told. Then again, the threat itself cannot be seen, which allows the film to lose out on a big "horror factor" that has strengthened many entries in the genre.
The core of Bird Box's story then falls to Malorie's story arc of being afraid to be a mother. It's an interesting and unique platform to explore parenthood, especially in an unsafe world where trust is often tested and survival is not guaranteed for anyone.
Because Bird Box juggles between an ambitious storyline and genre bending, it's packed from beginning to end with so much tension that you feel as exhausted, on-edge and empathetic with Malorie does by the end of her five-year journey trying to survive and keep two children alive from the deadly threat. While it's cinematically rocky and tonally unsound, there's payoff in the final act that had me all-in and unexpectedly emotional.
Bird Box's greatest strength undeniably lies in the perfect casting of Sandra Bullock in the lead role. Her Malorie may have a tough, guarded exterior but she effortlessly carries the film so incredibly that you feel like you've just experienced the events along with her. Trevante Rhodes' character has a vulnerability about him that balances out Malorie's external shyness and adds heart and humanity to the film.
Bird Box is not trying to be A Quiet Place, while it some ways it should in the way it sometimes unsuccessfully builds tension and flips between being genres. But if you let it blindly spin you around, poke and pry for a while, once it's all uncovered, Bird Box is a memorable film.