Directed by Susanne Bier
Screenplay by Eric Heisserer based on the book by Josh Malerman
Starring Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich, Vivien Lyra Blair, Julien Edwards, Danielle Macdonald, Lil Rel Howery, Jacki Weaver, Rosa Salazar, Colson Baker, BD Wong, Tom Hollander, Sarah Paulson
There are so many dystopian dramas floating in the ethos, it’s tough finding the motivation to commit to another one. The benefit to Bird Box is that it is a one and done. The fact that there are no kids saving what is left of the world is another plus. The best thing Bird Box has going for it is mystery.
The story starts out with Malorie (Bullock) and a young boy and girl on their way down river blindfolded. Malorie, Boy (Edwards) and Girl (Blair) are on a desperate quest to get somewhere that is not explained right away. Also not explained is the need to cover their eyes. The story takes its time getting to explaining, and even then, we don’t get everything.
Flash back to five years earlier. Malorie discovers that she is pregnant and is not real happy about it. Her sister (Paulson) tells her to look at the bright side. Before she has a chance a mass chaos strikes where people seemingly are driven mad by an entity that thrives in sunlight. Some people die by their own hand, others thrive in the madness.
Where the story goes from here seems somewhat standard, except for the mystery in which we are allowed to wallow. Melanie discover that birds can warn of this entities presence. The group Melanie ends up with has some standard archetypes made more effective by the quality of the actors playing them. Malkovich, Rhodes and MacDonald in particular give strong performances.
Most of the film’s heavy lifting is done by Bullock, in the severity mode she seems to have discovered later in her career. It’s a deep well of no nonsense strength that is driven by necessity of the situation, and it helps her maintain the intelligence to push through tight spots. It also allows a development towards understanding and compassion that gives the last act some intensity that augments the relatively meager production budget.
The film stands on its own for the fear it creates in the dialation of the eyes and the lifting of leaves. In the wrong hands, like Shyamalan when he made the underwhelming The Happening, it goes nowhere fast.
This film works because it sticks to its premise, doesn’t bring in too much extraneous information and it achieves a very simple goal. The viewer doesn’t need to know more than the information they give. It feels more honest when everyone is given the slimmest amount. When one feels the information is in short supply, it adds to the tension and makes the glimmer of hope much more profound.
The metaphor contained in its title is beauty itself. As one contemplates the growing of children in an environment where vision and the experience of life is constrained, like the birds they keep in a box for travel. Its necessary to stay alive, but it’s not living. The filmmakers show us the need for humans to fly, like birds. And to find the environment where this is possible is reason enough for any frantic and perilous journey.
(**** out of *****)