Director: Susanne Bier
Screenplay: Eric Heisserer
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich, Vivien Lyra Blair, Julian Edwards, Danielle Macdonald, Lil Rel Howery, Jacki Weaver, Rosa Salazar, BD Wong, Tom Hollander, Sarah Paulson, Colson Baker
Runtime: 124 Minutes
Bird Box is another recent horror film wherein the absence or restriction of a single human sense is presented as the key hook to an otherwise familiar backdrop. Film’s like Hush deprived the characters of hearing, Don’t Breathe and A Quiet Place took away the ability to make noise or even speak, and here we have Sandra Bullock guiding her children through the apocalypse as the creatures who are hunting them will cause them to commit suicide upon looking at them.
It’s a workable idea, sure, but the execution in this boilerplate dramatic thriller leaves most of the effect completely inert, and ends as one of the weakest films by acclaimed Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier.
The phenomenon stalking the world is unexplained but operating on the same sad level of The Predator, where most of the fundamental world building details consist of theories as opposed to established facts and yet work to those parameters anyway, and as such the ‘rules’ feel overly made up to the point that they lack any real stake. Even with an opening gambit of ‘what if The Happening but good?’, at least that film was more interesting in its overt badness.
Instead, there are long stretches of very little happening beyond having characters talk without having any real motion in the plot or connection to their motivations of emotions, and heavy exposition dumps from a high calibre cast – including John Malkovich, Tom Hollander and Trevante Rhodes – who clearly have their minds on other things but had a weekend free to shoot some interior scenes.
There’s also the issue of the decision not to show the creatures in order to put the audience in the same shoes as the protagonist, but if it were more compellingly shot or involving staged it might have worked better. The overbearing sound design is one thing, but everything about the staging of the scenes to the design of shots and composition feels like watching a mid-00s made-for-television production.
The manner of its structure by screenwriter Eric Heisserer has the film cutting back and forth between the present (years after the attack) and the extensive flashbacks to how it all started and how the characters ended up where they are. The present stuff is better if schlockier, but gives away any tension as to the outcome of the flashback structure that spans the majority of the film.
Of the few pluses that there are to take away from this, Bullock is an engaging enough presence at points to keep things at least watchable. She’s a tremendous talent that mainstream cinema has kind of lost interest in, and she’s the only one in the film putting in any believable or compelling work beyond the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Which is atmospheric even if borrowing from their better work.
Netflix has been hyping this sucker to kingdom come as this year’s indoor seasonal blockbuster, but Bird Box is too dry for anyone even remotely attuned to the wavelength it wants to be operating on, and try as she might, Bullock can’t quite save the dimensionless void of it all.