Netflix ends 2018 with one last big original release. Based on a novel by Josh Malerman, Bird Box marks yet another entry in the post-apocalyptic thriller genre. In 2018 alone, the film gods have given us Cargo, The Domestics, Hostile, The Cured, Extinction, and Stephanie. It’s a crowded field to say the least. But Bird Box boasts some pedigree both behind and in front of the camera. Acclaimed filmmaker Susanne Bier directs Oscar-winner Sandra Bullock in what feels like a spiritual cousin to A Quiet Place. Of course, Netflix had a lot of pedigree behind last year’s Bright.
SynopsisA blindfolded Marjorie guides two unnamed children along a treacherous stretch of river. It’s a desperate bid to find survivors in a post-apocalyptic world. Their journey is endangered by an unseen entity that if looked upon drives you to commit suicide. Five years earlier, a pregnant Marjorie takes shelter with other survivors as mass suicides ravage the globe.
Bird Box Makes the Most of Its Premise
Like the previously released A Quiet Place, Bird Box lives and dies with its simple premise. Bird Box is one part A Quiet Place, one part The Happening, with a sprinkling of several familiar dystopian movie tropes. Fortunately, Bier fuses these elements together into an emotional and suspenseful thriller Among her apt creative choices, Bier opts to never reveal Bird Box’s monsters. Similarly, Bier foregoes giving us much background on the unseen entities. Yes, there are some lazy plot contrivances here and there. Characters figure out what’s going on pretty quickly; even stranger, they seem pretty okay with the explanation. But Bird Box trusts its audience to piece things together as the movie’s characters do.
In spite of its length, Bird Box never drags and is punctuated with frequent bouts of suspense.
Bier also keeps her movie remarkably focused for its two hours. In spite of its length, Bird Box never drags and is punctuated with frequent bouts of suspense. Though the two timelines spoil some things by necessity, by and large, they allow Bier to seamlessly weave character moments with tension. Marjorie’s river run provides Bird Box with much of this tension. To her credit, Bier finds plenty of ways to exploit the characters’ blindfolds or maximum unease. But Bird Box’s highlight comes two-thirds of the way into the movie with a stranger interrupting two births. The scene doesn’t quite hit the same heights as a similar moment in A Quiet Place. Yet it’s still a highlight and one of the better horror movie moments of 2018.
Netflix Movies Still Lack a Cinematic Feel
If there’s one limitation of Bird Box, it’s the lack of cinematic feel to some moments. In general, Bird Box works best when it keeps its world small, focusing on its human drama. In the movie’s ‘bigger’ moments, Bird Box occasionally betrays its smaller roots. Early scenes showing showing the initial chaos of the ‘outbreak’ have a ‘made-for-television-vibe’ hanging over them. Other Netflix originals, including Extinction and The Cloverfield Paradox, have suffered from the same problem. Keep in mind, this is a minor quibble with Bird Box.
Bullock Heads a Stellar Cast
If Bird Box occasionally feels less cinematic than its subject-matter, the cast more than makes up for it. Admittedly, all the characters will feel familiar to audiences who watch a lot of dystopian movies. Even Bullock’s ‘Marjorie’ gets shoehorned into what feels likes a fairly predictable character arc. In spite of the movie’s periodic heavy-handedness, Bullock infuses ‘Marjorie’ with such believable pathos that you can’t help but get sucked into the story. Bullock delivers the emotional knockout needed at the end, helping Bird Box transcend some of its limitations.
A stellar supporting casts lends Bullock a hand. Trevante Rhodes (The Predator) continues to illustrate why more movies need more Trevante Rhodes. In supporting roles, Sarah Paulson and John Malkovich make the most of their screen time. Get Out’s Lil Rel Howery is on hand to deliver some much needed levity here and there.
Bird Box Helps Netflix End on a High Note
While Bird Box doesn’t necessarily tread new ground in the post-apocalyptic genre, it still delivers top-notch suspense with its simple premise. Director Susanne Bier capably balances the human drama with the requisite B-movie monster scares, and Sandra Bullock turns in another stellar performance. It’s a much needed win for Netflix if it hope to continue moving forward with more original feature-length content.