Netflix’s Christmas hit Bird Box, directed by Susanne Bier, is a post-apocalyptic thriller that follows the hardened Malorie as she and her children brave a dangerous journey in order to escape the supernatural force that’s killed off most of the human population—the “creature”. (BV 4.0/5.0)
Review by Intern Beatrice Viri
Bird Box opens by establishing the post-apocalyptic setting, where the hard-hearted protagonist, “Malorie” (Sandra Bullock) essentially threatens two children, only known as “boy” (Julian Edwards) and “girl” (Vivien Lyra Blair), and says that they will be braving a perilous expedition down the river to reach a supposed sanctuary. The children are told to never take off their blindfolds—or else they will die. After the tense introduction, the scene flashes back to Malorie (Sandra Bullock), pregnant and living a comfortable life with her sister “Jess” (Sarah Paulson). Before they leave for Malorie’s routine pregnancy checkup, Malorie and Jess discuss the news, which involves an epidemic of mass suicide plaguing Russia and other parts of Europe. Malorie dismisses the news, not believing it will reach the US, and heads off to her appointment. After she admits to being uncomfortable with the prospect of being a mother, her doctor, “Dr. Lapham” (Parminder Nagra), gives her an adoption pamphlet in case she decides she is unfit, and the few moments after are the last scenes with a sense of normalcy. Subsequently, Malorie witnesses a woman start to bash her head against the hospital window, and the epidemic that Malorie had previously dismissed has reached her town.
Malorie and Jess attempt to escape, but while driving away Malorie is distracted by a phone call as Jess sees something in her rearview mirror that frightens her. Jess crashes the car and steps in front of a speeding truck, leaving an injured Malorie traumatized from the sight of her death. The horrified, pregnant Malorie struggles to find shelter; a woman “Lydia” (Rebecca Pidgeon) urges her into their safe house despite her husband’s protests. However, Lydia immediately kills herself as she looks back into the thing that frightened Malorie’s sister. Malorie is met with the rest of the house—“Douglas” (John Malkovich), who holds a grudge against her for indirectly killing his wife; “Greg” (BD Wong) the owner of the house; “Cheryl” (Jacki Weaver) an elderly, kind woman; “Felix” (Colson Baker/Machine Gun Kelly) a rather edgy young man, “Lucy” (Rosa Salazar) a police cadet, “Charlie” (Lil Rey Howery) a grocery worker, and finally “Tom” (Trevante Rhodes), a caring construction worker. Tom in particular is supportive of Malorie’s pregnancy, as he has a sister who recently gave birth.
Dread is rampant throughout the household; everyone is terrified of going outside lest they face the entity, only known as the “creature”—something no one understands. The film switches between the group’s fight for survival, with the additions of another pregnant woman named “Olympia” (Danielle Macdonald) and a suspicious businessman named “Gary” (Tom Hollander), and Malorie’s risky journey down the river. The viewer is constantly on the edge of their seat, wondering who will survive—if anyone will, at all.
Bird Box is the type of film that’s fun to watch while actually watching, but feels a bit lacking when it’s over and the viewer has had time to dwell. It’s atmospheric, with lighting and visuals that set up an apprehensive environment, and mostly does a great job of immersing the viewer in suspense. But for me, the emotional thriller part wasn’t enough– I felt myself nitpicking many of the logistics throughout the film, such as some of the characters’ actions. It did garner a sense of appreciation for blind people and their everyday lives, because the able-bodied had to relearn everything they once knew with blindfolds—but this part also had me question the logistics again. Apparently, blind people are immune because they can’t see the entity, but the entity is also able control through sound as well. The film barely touches upon the entity, and it’s not the focus—but Bird Box leaves you with more questions than answers.
The selling point of the film is definitely its characters. Charlie in particular was moving, an awkward young man who was probably the most terrified of the bunch, but ended up making the ultimate sacrifice; Cheryl was also surprisingly a spunky addition who provided some comic relief and wisdom. Most notably, Tom was unbelievably charming, and definitely captured the hearts of many—I found myself rooting for him until the very end. Not to be unnoticed, Sandra Bullock’s performance as Malorie was riveting, especially in her regards as the hardened, slightly unwilling mother. It’s clear that this movie isn’t directed by a man, as her struggle to show love to the kids is raw and very real. She is cold and cynical—the children don’t even call her mother, and she doesn’t give them names (though, this could also stem from her fear of getting attached and whether or not they will survive).
However, though the characters are the highlight of the film, there were also some shortcomings. Malorie struggles with motherhood throughout the entire film, but at the end is overcome with love for her children and finally bestows them names. It could be because of relief, but her embrace feels rather inconsistent with her personality. Each character had their own idiosyncrasies, but many also felt rather one-dimensional; one character that comes to mind is Olympia, as though her kindness is the center of her personality, it was hard to get attached to her as the examples of her empathy felt fundamentally shallow.
More things that were rather bothersome were the gay and black deaths. As a post-apocalyptic movie, many are destined to die, but it was irksome that the Asian man announced he was gay and was graphically killed off only moments later, and two black men were killed off on screen (as well as one being heavily sexualized). Again, it’s the type of movie where everyone dies, but until we can live in a world where hate crimes and institutionalized racism aren’t rampant and LGBT/black lives aren’t expendable, this will always be a fundamental flaw. If this film was directed by a person of color, perhaps my opinion on this matter would be different; it’s great that Bird Box was directed by a woman, but we must always be mindful of these issues, too.
Bird Box spawned much acclaim at its release, social media crawling with jokes about the film—probably because it came out right before Christmas. Is it the kind of post-apocalyptic family fun that everyone can bond over? Possibly! It will keep the whole family in suspense, that’s for sure. But if you’re looking for a film that’s profoundly deep, this probably isn’t it.
© Beatrice Viri (12/27/18) FF2 Media
Photos: Bird Box Promotional Poster, and Sandra Bullock as Malorie with the two children “boy” (Julian Edwards) and “girl” (Vivien Lyra Blair)
Photo Credits: Saeed Adyani
Does Bird Box pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?
Yes. They’re on the verge of dying at all times—there’s some focus on husbands and boyfriends, but the main topic is, well, everyone’s survival.