****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****
My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
My Recommendation: SKIP IT. A derivative supernatural thriller that holds little to no cinematic appeal.
Bird Box, written by Eric Heisserer (based on the book of the same name by Josh Malerman) and directed by Susanne Bier, is a supernatural thriller about a woman trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. The film stars Sandra Bullock with supporting turns from John Malkovich, Trevante Rhodes and Sarah Paulson among many others.
During my recent daily online reading routine I kept coming across headlines saying that the Netflix film Bird Box was racking up prodigious amounts of views. Falling prey to the Netflix marketing campaign, which included those sure to be bogus view numbers and the plethora of manufactured stories about said bogus numbers, and also being the mindless lemming that I am, I decided I too should watch Bird Box to see what all the fuss was about.
Upon seeing the film I can now report that the fuss is phony. Bird Box is a glorified made for tv film that is an amalgam of other not very good movies, and some downright awful movies. If M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening, one of the worst movies imaginable, had sex with its first cousin that was a cheap knock off of A Quiet Place, and then gave birth to a six-toed simpleton that had a regional theatre’s version of Sophie’s Choice’s next door neighbor’s friend from high school’s sister as its wet nurse, you’d get Bird Box.
Bird Box, and the online hype surrounding it, reminded me of when I was a kid and one of the networks (there were only three back then) would hype an apocalyptic movie of the week where killer bees or fire ants turn on humans, or something equally absurd. I was always a sucker for such movies, but being young was never allowed to stay up and watch them, thus they got to maintain their mysterious power over me even as I grew into an adult (or whatever I am now). Of course those killer bees/fire ants movies were awful and everyone who wasn’t twelve or younger at the time knew it, even the poor local newscaster who would tease a story during a commercial break and then try and stay solemn and professional as he uttered with liquor fueled indignation the classic phrase, “stay tuned for that story and sports with Champ and Brick with the weather on the 11 o’clock news at the conclusion of the movie”.
Like those movies of the week, Bird Box does have an interesting, if not entirely original, premise, that for some mysterious reason there are waves of mass suicides taking place. This post-apocalyptic world is ripe for exploring numerous philosophical questions on the meaning of life, God, humanity and purpose, but instead of serving a rich feast of cinematic questions, the film takes dramatic shortcut after shortcut and ends up being a thin gruel of regurgitated pablum with no value whatsoever.
Bird Box’s alleged success is really a result of the marketing team cashing in on having Sandra Bullock as the movie’s lead actress. Bullock does commendable work in the film, and I am assuming/hoping she received hefty remuneration for her duties because all of those views Netflix is bragging about are because she is still “America’s sweetheart”….a less grating version of Julia Roberts.
Bullock carries the film from start to finish and does so with her usual down to earth, approachable aplomb, but that doesn’t mean the acting is top notch, it isn’t. The cast includes some big name actors like John Malkovich, Jacki Weaver, BD Wong and Sarah Paulson, none of whom distinguish themselves bringing their paper thin characters to life.
Bullock and Paulson play sisters and their interactions early in the film are so forced and wooden it is stunning. To be fair, the dialogue in these exchanges is so laden with exposition it would be difficult for any actor to find signs of life within that barren wasteland.
As the film progresses it becomes populated by a rainbow of caricatures, the bitter drunken asshole with a heart of gold, the gay Asian guy with a heart of gold, the Black Iraq war vet with a heart of gold, the nerdy conspiracy novel writing guy with a heart of gold and on and on and on.
The internal logic of the film is pretty tenuous as well, with a lot of instances where you stop and go, “wait a minute…that doesn’t make sense!”…like when the Black guy with a heart of gold takes the time to put his pants on before he runs over to pick up a walkie-talkie that is signaling the first glimmer of hope for the survivors since their ordeal began, or the cavalcade of other illogical oddities that you just have to shrug at and go with if you want to keep watching.
Besides the shallow script and uneven performances, the visuals of the film are pretty lackluster. Considering that sight is a main plot point in the film, you’d think a cinematographer or director worth their salt would find a way to exploit that fact with some artistic flair, but alas with Bird Box it is not to be. Cinematographer Salvatore Totino delivers a very flat and cinematically dull film that looks like episodic television, and that is not a compliment in the slightest.
Director Susanne Bier fails to adequately draw the viewer in with either the look of the movie or an interesting perspective on the story. Once the histrionics of the collapse of society take place, the film is reduced to a stage play of stereotypes that is terribly predictable and devoid of much tension or drama.
The one thing the film does have going for it is that Sandra Bullock is a pleasant person to spend two hours with, which is really the secret to her very successful career. Bullock is always Bullock, but that is what makes her a movie star. She is a charismatic and compelling screen presence and while the film that surrounds her is derivative and trite, her presence elevates the material to at least being tolerable.
In conclusion, Bird Box is a mish-mash, fish stew of old Hollywood tropes, cliches and caricatures that never rises to its slightly alluring and intriguing premise. It fails to adequately explore the multitude of philosophical, social and/or political questions it alludes to and never successfully builds enough tension or drama to be worthwhile. It is for these reasons that I cannot recommend Bird Box in the slightest…but if you want to see a similar thriller but one that is original, skillfully made and riddled with quality performances, then wait until A Quiet Place comes out on Netflix and watch that, it will be a much better use of your limited free time.