BIRD BOX (2018)
Directed by Susanne Bier
Written by Eric Heisserer (screenplay), Josh Malerman (novel)
Starring Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich, Sarah Paulson, Jacki Weaver, Rosa Salazar, Danielle Macdonald, Lil Rel Howery, Tom Hollander, Machine Gun Kelly, BD Wong, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Vivien Lyra Blair, Julian Edwards, Parminder Nagra, Rebecca Pidgeon, Amy Gumenick, Taylor Handley, Happy Anderson, Aden Calderon, Chanon Finley, Frank Mottek, Kyle Beatty, Ashley Alva, David Dastmalchian, Keith Jardine, Kristopher Logan
I must admit, upon watching the BIRD BOX trailer, I already had a horrible bad taste in my mouth. Seeing Sandra Bullock sternly scold two kids about never taking off their blindfolds not only reminded me of the far superior film A QUIET PLACE, but also the ridonkulous rules droned on about for the god awful BYE BYE MAN film. But after witnessing the memes on Twitter, the idiots who got hurt doing the “Bird Box Challenge,” and hearing about the film from basically everyone, I decided to bite the bullet and check it out.
Turns out I’m not a fan. And no, it’s not because it’s popular and not because the monster isn’t shown at the end. I’ll get into it deeper after the synopsis.
Mal (Sandra Bullock) is a middle aged pregnant woman who has some issues. She is a downright difficult to get along with (save her sister played by Sarah Paulson) and is not really jazzed about having a kid either. After hearing rumors of an insanity virus occurring in Russia, Mal and her sister get out of an appointment with her doctor to find the “virus” has spread to America. Turns out there are some kind of creatures that create suicidal feelings to most who see them and make those who are mentally unstable into their devout followers. All you have to do is glance at the creature and you go suicidal. So after a pretty decent outbreak scene, Mal finds herself holed up in a secured house with a self-described asshole (John Malkovich), a noble former military man (Trevante Rhodes), a punk rocker, a rookie cop, an old lady, and another pregnant woman. The group do the usual in these types of apocalyptic films and basically prove that we can’t get along with one another, no matter what the threat outside is. Meanwhile, the film flips its timeline to show Bullock, now with two children named Boy and Girl, trying to make their way down a river to a safe haven they hear about on the radio.
Whew, long synopsis and a long film to match it. A lot goes on in BIRD BOX and I understand why folks get into it since it really requires some kind of commitment to watch ringing in at almost two hours (too long for a survival thriller horror film). First let’s start with the good. Despite the fact that the other characters are written pretty cardboardly and simply exist to push the plot along with hurdles and tragedy, Bullock’s Mal is written pretty well. The reason I didn’t name the other characters m in the synopsis is that they only function to interact with Bullock in some way up until it is time for them to die. But Bullock’s acting is pretty strong, as is Trevante Rhodes character Tom, who is the closest thing to a character the rest of this film has. I guess you can include Malkovich’s Douglas in there, but while he is often set up as wrong, his reluctance to let in strangers, willingness to sacrifice others for his safety, and overall selfish attitude is usually right, despite the fact that he is set up as a sort of villain character. These three characters work in this film and sort of follows the classic NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD trope with Bullock playing the Barbara role, Rhodes playing the Ben role, and Malkovich in the jerk Henry role who doesn’t want to come up from the basement. Again, Henry is right in NOTLD, proving that the basement is the safest place in the same way Malkovich’s Douglas is right not to trust everyone who knocks at their door—still both are portrayed as jerks despite their good survival instincts. This makes for a sort of morally ambiguous theme going on in BIRD BOX, where the voice of reason is spoken by an asshole, well played by Malkovich.