Main cast: Sandra Bullock (Malorie Hayes), Trevante Rhodes (Tom), Jacki Weaver (Cheryl), Rosa Salazar (Lucy), Danielle Macdonald (Olympia), Colson Baker (Felix), Lil Rel Howery (Charlie), Tom Hollander (Gary), BD Wong (Greg), Pruitt Taylor Vince (Rick), Sarah Paulson (Jessica Hayes), Parminder Nagra (Dr Lapham), and John Malkovich (Douglas)
Director: Susanne Bier
Can you suspend your disbelief long enough to accept that a woman and two young children are able to make a long, arduous journey that lasted almost two days, all the while completely blindfolded? Yes, the blindfolds stay on as they grope around, row a boat down a river, fight off some deranged killer, and wander around in some woods. If you can buy this possibility, then you may enjoy Bird Box. If not… oh boy, this is going to be an even harder sell than A Quiet Place, which is fortunate to be released earlier and hence this movie will be forever compared to it instead of the other way around.
There are enough similarities in the premise: alien beings are here on a quest to wipe out humanity, and the humans are losing. Here, it’s because the sight of these beings will drive anyone to commit suicide, so unless you are blind or insane, you must never, ever look at them. Hence, the blindfold. Unfortunately, those who aren’t in full control of their sanity end up under the sway of these beings after having taken a glimpse at them, and these people prowl the neighborhood looking for other people that they will then force to take a look at those alien beings or kill these humans themselves. I’m not sure why it’s not just more expedient to just have these mad minions kill the survivors outright, but maybe the victims committing suicide somehow boost the aliens in some way. If there is one thing missing in this movie, it’s answers – many things about the nature of these alien things remain unanswered by the end of the movie. Maybe they are saving it for the sequel?
At any rate, it is in this messed-up setting that we meet Malorie Hayes. Our artist heroine is pregnant (the father is no longer in her life, and she’s not too broken up about this; in fact, she’s more annoyed that there is going to be a brat on the way) when the world goes to hell. She will meet a group of other survivors, including designated love interest Tom, and pull off something like a Living Dead shopping mall scenario. Of course, humanity is its worst enemy, blah blah, so the survivors soon turn on one another even as the enemies approach, blah blah blah, and Malorie learns by chance that birds can detect the presence of these aliens long before they come into sight. So yes, there we go. The survival of those who hold their wits the longest and keep those blindfolds on the hardest.
Boy, Parminder Nagra has really gone all matronly now – she still looks adorable, but so different that I am taken aback when I first see her playing Malorie’s gynecologist. Maybe it’s that dowdy moms blouse they stick her in.
Oh, where was I? Bird Box, right. This is a very watchable movie, despite it being mostly a composite of tropes from end-of-days movies such as the already mentioned Living Dead flicks and of course A Quiet Place. The cast is mostly stereotypes in action, but the actors put on a great show. Sandra Bullock is always reliable as usual, and her Malorie is easily the emotional core that holds everything in this movie together. Trevante Rhodes looks increasingly sexy each time I see him, hmm, and he has adequate chemistry with Ms Bullock to make his otherwise generic all-around capable nice guy character memorable in all the good ways. John Malkovich puts on a nicely restrained performance for a role that calls for deadpan lines and an acerbic, mean kind of pragmatism – Douglas doesn’t seem too over the top or farcicial; instead, he actually ends up a sympathetic kind of Cassandra whose actually sensible advice is ignored by everyone else because the things he says are not “nice” and “selfless”. BD Wong’s character is sort of there, as are the rest of the cast – they all exist to be picked off or be put on the bus sooner or later. The chubby black guy is the closest thing to a comic relief/annoying PITA here, but he is ultimately wasted as a character.
The pacing is solid, and there is also a refreshing lack of jump scares. Things instead build up to a feverish pitch and then boom, things fall apart. The fact that the alien thing remains unseen here and its origin or nature is unexplained only adds to the claustrophobia of the more tension-filled moments. There are also some well-placed quiet moments to both let me catch my breath and allow the main characters to show a bit more of themselves to the viewer.
In a way, Bird Box is a less head-scratcher of a movie compared to A Quiet Place, because the whole “blindfolded wilderness adventure” thing is focused on one single if long and increasingly ludicrous scene. The other movie, on the other hand, is full of “Really? Why are they staying in the house and expecting a woman to deliver a baby without making a sound when they know there is a habitable place behind a waterfall nearby, with the falling water keeping the aliens from hearing the noise they make?” moments that can get in the way of enjoying the movie. Hence, while this one may be on the generic “I’ve seen many elements in this movie a few times already!” side, I think I like this one more than the other movie. Unpopular opinion, I know, but how about a compromise? Have both Emily Blunt and Sandra Bullock play the leads in the crossover sequel, and I’d be first in line.