“Bird Box,” based on the novel by Josh Malerman, is written by Eric Heisserer and directed by Susanne Bier and stars Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes and John Malkovich.
While the film opens in theaters this weekend in New York and Los Angeles (think Oscar, here), this Netflix dystopian horror film then will become available to stream to your home via the digital platform on Dec. 21.
“Bird Box” delivers a powerful punch in the first scene as we see two young children blindfolded and being directed as to what’s expected of them. Your mind races, wondering if these children have been kidnapped as they are addressed as “Girl” and “Boy.” It’s gut-wrenching to watch these terrified-yet-precious little faces react to harshness from a woman, but then we are spiraled to five years earlier, and we find out how we got to this lowly place.
We meet Malorie (Bullock), who is in her last trimester of pregnancy, denying every month of it, and her sister, Jessica (Sarah Paulson), who is a ray of sunshine — the polar opposite of Malorie. Their sisterly banter and interactions are interrupted quickly by televised emergency information. There is a rash of inexplicable en masse suicides happening around the world. The situation quickly devolves as it hits home and the two attempt to escape being infected or affected by whatever is happening.
Their escape lands only Malorie in a house where others also sought safety, and together, they try to survive.
“Bird Box,” on the surface, reminds me of a combination of the horror films “It Comes At Night” and “A Quiet Place,” particularly as we have a key sensory deprivation, this time sight, and a need to find and maintain a safe environment yet still live. “Bird Box,” however, has a cast of characters who comprise a misfit group, a slice of America, if you will, showing their true colors under life-and-death stress.
Who will be selfish and who will be selfless? It’s a constant inner struggle and each character just might surprise you.
“Bird Box” is a gripping story from start to finish that will have you on the edge of your seat as you put yourself in the characters’ shoes. You second-guess their decisions, hold your breath as they make mistakes, knowing that, as in all horror films, one by one, most will not survive. However, what elevates this film from the typical is the powerful use of psychology and the understanding of human nature.
You even begin to ponder Darwin’s theory of adaptation at one point in the film, as each character exhibits a skill or a trait that enables them to survive ... even just a little longer than another. In the end, however, it’s the all-star cast that makes this horror film believable and downright fun.
Finding the right cast of characters to create a successful film in this genre is no easy task, but “Bird Box” has done it. Rhodes is magical as the ex-military character who’s not just tough, but caring and smart. There is also a beautiful chemistry between him and Bullock, which checks off the love story box on your list of must-haves in a film.
Then, we have John Malkovich who portrays Douglas, one of those most interesting characters whose selfish personality and alcoholism paired with Malkovich’s own unique style of delivery adds humor and a level of credibility to this spine-chilling story. Lil Rel Howery’s (“Get Out”) Charlie is charming and comical at times, balancing Malkovich and his character perfectly.
But this is Bullock’s film, as she creates a strong, independent, smart character who will do what it takes to not just survive but protect her young. Bullock shines and carries this film effortlessly, creating a very real woman in this continuously dangerous new world, but it is her interaction with the remarkable children, Vivian Lyra Blair (Girl) and Julian Edwards (Boy), whose performances deserve to be noted, that pushes her acting skills to a higher level.
We feel the fear of the unknown breathing down her neck as her words and actions punctuate the direness of what’s to come. Jacki Weaver, Sarah Paulson, Tom Hollander, and Danielle Macdonald (“Patti Cake$”), round out the ensemble cast perfectly.
“Bird Box” (and the reason it’s called that will be your discovery), has another important character: the cinematography. The skillful use of the camera builds tension then pulls back to lull you into a comfortable place, only to build it back up again. The tight shots within the house compress your hope, stifling it and juxtaposing the current-day shots of gorgeous, sweeping landscapes promising freedom and a future, yet still capturing harrowing situations and hovering with impending doom. Additionally, the film uses a nonlinear timeline to bring you back and forth between the present day and five years earlier.
With precision storytelling and attention to detail, the director and writers never allow you to learn any information before you’re supposed to, requiring your own mindful participation. Thanks to Bier seated in the director’s seat, the story is horrifyingly real, and as a mother, I was blown away by these performances, especially the children’s.
“Bird Box” is a smart, nail-biting psychological horror film that works, thanks to a tight script, a talented cast and stunning cinematography.