Parenthood should scare any logical human being. Think about it. For women, you’re stuck with a little human growing inside of you that survives based off your nutrient intake for nine months. Then, as a dude, you’re forced to work day-and-night in order to pay for this munchkin that, 16 to 18 years from now, will be making the same horrible mistakes that you were making at that age. Being a parent is never easy, but similar to a quality horror movie, when they’re good, they are great.
As such, in order to continue with this child-rearing metaphor and perfectly executed segue, “Bird Box” is comparable to a pleasant, but neglectful, parent. It’s cool to see them every once in a while, but at the end of the day, they still gave you up for adoption, so maybe they’re not so great in the end
Based on the 2014 novel written by Josh Malerman, “Bird Box” is a semi-sci-fi, semi-horror, but entirely post-apocalyptic film about a woman named Malorie (Sandra Bullock) who is forced to fight for her survival after mysterious entities begin driving the earth’s population to suicide. How do these entities force people to kill themselves? Eye contact. Cool idea, right?
However, as another entry in the sense-centric subgenre of horror flicks, “Bird Box” is arguably at the lower end of the spectrum when compared to its contemporaries (i.e. “A Quiet Place,” “Hush” or even “Wait Until Dark”). Unfortunately, the Netflix original attempts to elevate an A-plus premise beyond its B-movie execution, but never quite delivers on its promises and greatly suffers as a result. Although it is publicly documented that Malerman completed the novel’s rough draft before the release of M. Night Shamalyan’s “The Happening” and the cinematic adaptation of “The Road,” the comparisons to both of these films, and any given post-apocalyptic movie released in the past several decades, cannot help but be drawn regardless.
Conversely, where “Bird Box” finds redemption is in its performances. Sandra Bullock takes control of every scene, and alongside Trevante Rhodes, the two actors push past the schlock and pull enough emotional resonance from the rubble to keep the audience invested. Similarly, Vivien Lyra Blair and Julian Edwards, the two child actors who portray Malorie’s children, provide a sensitive undercurrent that any soft-hearted viewer won’t be able to ignore, and allow the motherhood theme to reach its full potential. Although John Malkovich is naturally over-the-top, and Lil Rel Howery and Colson Baker (Machine Gun Kelly) certainly don’t add anything of value, none of the aforementioned parties can take away from Bullock’s truly spectacular performance. By the conclusion of the third act, Malorie’s character arc feels earned, a rare achievement for most horror films.
Alternatively, Susanne Bier’s direction arrives pre-packaged in a two-sided state. Admirably, the filmmaker seems most comfortable with crafting intimate moments, a talent that turns four people eating Poptarts into a heartwarming sequence and transforms a man asking to hold a newborn into a stomach-churning scene. However, when required to handle larger set pieces, the director seems completely out of her element. Consequently, the outcome is awkward, as evidenced by the wholly underwhelming first encounter with the creatures and almost all of the opening act.
Furthermore, the feeling of desperation and isolation that the film desperately strives to achieve never once hits home and often fails to enter into the equation at all. Due to these shortcomings, “Bird Box” is forced to function as a generic bottle film and an unconventional thriller, with the former stealing much of the 124-minute runtime, though both sides feel undercooked and sabotage the movie’s pacing in equal portions.
In short, “Bird Box” is unbalanced. In one hand sits a quietly dramatic horror film filled with impressive performances and impactful scenes, but, in the other hand, you’re forced to hold a low-grade creature feature with nothing fresh to offer whatsoever. Unfortunately, you don’t get one without the other due to the pair of dissimilar parts never forming a cohesive whole.
Still, there is some fun to be had with “Bird Box.” Despite its sporadic eye-roll moments, the film is charming. It’s the epitome of a rainy day movie – a flick that you can watch wrapped in a blanket with a hot cup of cocoa when it’s too dreary to leave the house. It’s bland and lackluster, but ultimately leaves you with an impression you’re unlikely to remember, but won’t be offended if you do. [C+]