As it’s delved deeper into original fare and film, the streaming juggernaut Netflix has found a fledgling success with series (e.g. The Punisher, Jessica Jones, Stranger Things) but seems to be very hit or miss with original films. With the massive critical love for Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, Netflix executives had high hopes for the A-list star, Sandra Bullock thriller Bird Box. Attempting to tap into the same vein that made John Krasinski’s directorial debut of A Quiet Place so successful was problem number one of a host of issues.
Based off of a 2014 novel by Josh Malerman, Bird Box is a mishmash of cobbled doomsday, apocalyptic thrillers from days long gone. At the center is Malorie (Sandra Bullock): an enigmatic artist living in northern California and dealing with a pregnancy she clearly doesn’t want. Her supportive sister Jessica (a complete talent wasted Sarah Paulson) is determined that Malorie lean on her, an idea that seems abhorrent to the latter.
While at a doctor’s appointment, Malorie and Jessica witness firsthand the “entities” beginning to make people lose their minds. These “entities” aren’t given a name and the danger isn’t wholly realized until we see a woman at the hospital repeatedly bashing her head into a window.
It’s almost funny how nonsensical things devolve from that point.
In the car, Malorie and Jessica see just how desperate things have gotten. Structures on fire, people running red lights, cars crashing into each other-everywhere they turn, people’s eyes are shown clouding over and then they perform death by suicide in some horrible fashion. Whatever these folks are seeing isn’t shown to the audience, and that’s just one of the myriad of problems with this film. Is it awful to see the aftermath of a person’s devastation? Sure. But the real terror is feeling what that character felt and without being shown the “entity,” we are left in the proverbial dark.
After Jessica dispatches herself due to whatever she sees, pregnant Malorie is dazed and confused in the street. When a good Samaritan points her to the relative safety of a nearby home, she too is caught up and self-immolates in a burning vehicle.
And the hits keep coming.
Malorie meets a band of misfits in the home: Greg, the homeowner (B.D. Wong in another waste of talent), Tom (Trevante Rhodes), Douglas (John Malkovich), Cheryl (Jackie Weaver), Lucy (Rosa Salazar), Felix (Machine Gun Kelly) and Charlie (Lil’ Rel Howery). Firmly ensconced, they’re later joined by the also very pregnant Olympia (Danielle MacDonald).
For a while, things tentatively work. When the food runs low, that’s when tensions always rise. Resources diminish and hackles raise, those are the ways of the wild. Making a food run to a grocery store they know was locked up (shoutout to Charlie’s foresight), the covered window car ride was one of the best parts of the film. Between Tom mumbling “It’s nothing, I’ve got it,” to the passengers in the backseat gripping tightly to each other, the close-in cinematography really worked.
At the store, they divide and conquer. Douglas to sample various liquors, the others to food staples that will last for the long haul. It’s not until the banging on the loading dock door begins does anyone decide to raise their alert level. Although Charlie recognized the voice of one of his coworkers, Malorie and Douglas are the only one with any sense. They adamantly state not to let this guy in but Tom and Lucy have other ideas. The only reason-I reiterate-the only reason they survive is due to Charlie’s self-sacrifice of flinging himself out the door to prevent loading dock zombie coworker from coming in. It’s a bad move on Tom and Lucy’s part, one which has major repercussions.
Of course things continue to move downhill. Lucy and Felix still the car and leave. Olympia lets in a suspiciously unharmed professor. The crew locks Douglas in the garage. Olympia and Malorie go into labor at the same time. It’s a cataclysm of bad luck and stupid decisions. And when Gary (Tom Hollander) turns out to be one of the crazed freaks whom worship the “entities,” Douglas’s suspicions don’t appear so off-base.
Fast-forward 4 years. The only ones left from the group are Malorie, Tom and the two babies, Boy and Girl (ridiculous, I know). They stay on the move, they keep their guard up and Malorie doesn’t even allow Tom to tell them stories of his childhood. It’s harsh but in her mind, necessary. When Tom loses the battle against the “entities” while protecting his found family, Malorie makes the decision to continue the dangerous trek to a sanctuary supposedly down river.
Here’s an implausible scenario: woman rows herself and two small children on a raging river for 40 hours but takes no breaks. It’s like Bird Box taunts its viewers to suspend all disbelief in reality. And when they do find sanctuary, it’s at a school for the blind. In the middle of the woods. Sure.
I have so many issues with this film but the resolution might just take the cake. If you have 2 hours to waste, sure, give it a go. If you value your time, keep on scrolling. Better luck next time Netflix.