Genre: Supernatural Horror Running Time: 2 hrs. 4 min.
Release Date: December 21st, 2018 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Susanne Bier Actors: Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich, Sarah Paulson, Jacki Weaver, Rosa Salazar, Danielle Macdonald, Lil Rel Howery, Tom Hollander, BD Wong, Colson Baker
t’s safe here.” There’s a community, a compound, at the end of a river, which promises a safe haven from some unseen evil that has wiped out the majority of mankind. Malorie Hayes (Sandra Bullock) and her two five-year-old children prepare for the lengthy journey in a tiny boat, taking with them nothing but a couple of backpacks. The catch, however, is that all three of them are blindfolded. “Under no circumstance are you allowed to take off your blindfold. If you look, you will die.”
Five years earlier, unexplained mass suicides start devastating Europe, beginning in Romania. Officials have determined that the cause is not pathological or viral; but the hysteria is affecting tens of thousands of people. In the United States, Malorie concerns herself with her pregnancy, which is causing consternation due to the absence of a father and thoughts about whether or not she can love her unborn child. When her sister Jessica (Sarah Paulson) drives her home, chaos strikes: random civilians begin crashing cars, throwing themselves into traffic, and running into the streets in a violent crush. The crisis has arrived in the U.S.
“It makes you kill yourself.” Malorie manages to hole up in Greg’s (BD Wong) house nearby, where a group of other survivors hypothesize what their friends and family may have seen to coerce them into spontaneous suicide. In a matter of minutes, the neighborhood is consumed by death and destruction – and all contact with the outside world is cut off.
The initial setup once again reminds of the typical zombie film – or the many postapocalyptic thrillers in which a handful of scavengers seek out supplies and momentary sanctuary from encroaching doom (including “The Happening,” which also involves unperceived, vicious forces). Even the roads, full of discarded items and dead bodies, look as if straight from a zombie armageddon. Here, Malorie’s pregnancy adds additional complications (and, later, once she’s in charge of two children, things grow even more nerve-wracking, considering that their ages dictate inabilities to remain quiet, to follow precise instructions, and to comprehend mortality), while pockets of humanity provide further obstacles – especially when they seek to manipulate one another (an extra layer of agonizing complexity, though one that doesn’t make a lot of sense). No one can be trusted. And the tension is exceptional.
Without the use of sight, “Bird Box” employs some creative methods for traversing hazardous terrain. With flashbacks to chronicle events leading up to Malorie’s extreme isolation, there are also intermittent bursts of comic relief and spurts of moving character development (along with a love story) – as well as superb foreshadowing, since the present day is so different from Malorie’s previous struggles in a group. The acting really sells the premise, chiefly from Bullock, imparting a striking sincerity that prevents the sci-fi/horror elements from being frivolous. Supporting roles are similarly superb, with John Malkovich, Trevante Rhodes, Jacki Weaver, Danielle Macdonald, Lil Rel Howery, and Tom Hollander smartly contributing to the discord.
Unfortunately, thanks to a coincidental release date just months after “A Quiet Place,” “Bird Box” will have considerable difficulty avoiding comparisons. The sense that is deprived has shifted, but the use of mostly unobserved monsters, a pregnant female protagonist, and children in the midst of the plight are all notable shared components. The scary-movie tactics here are a touch severer, and the occult antagonists are handled with greater believability, but the film’s originality unavoidably suffers – even if the suspense is superior.
– Mike Massie