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Bird Box, powerful performances lost to poor storytelling

Did Netflix serve up a Christmas turkey or does Bullock’s performance add some beef?

Malorie and a little girl blindfolded

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While the concept for Netflix’s exclusive offering Bird Box was certainly interesting, you can’t help but feel that it was pipped at the post by John Krasinsky’s, A Quiet Place, which was released earlier this year.

However, Bird Box is based on a novel by Josh Malerman, which was written in 2014, and from what I can see early scripts for A Quiet Place didn’t surface until two years later in 2016.

You can lump both movies into a very crowded post apocalyptic genre though—and while certain reviewers may grow weary of the usual post apocalypse tropes­­—Bird Box gets a low pass thanks to a solid performance by Sandra Bullock who drags the film kicking and screaming to the final and somewhat preposterous act.

Who made it?

Directed the internationally acclaimed Academy Award Winner Susanne Bier from a screenplay by Eric Heisserer—who wrote A Nightmare on Elm Street and the 2011 prequel to The Thing—Bird Box is certainly one of the bigger offerings from Netflix to come out this year.

What’s it about?

The story (while nowhere nearly as terrifying as some critics will clickbait you to believe) is reasonably intense. Where A Quiet Place was about monsters that hunt via sound, so you have to be quiet, Bird Box is about an entity that, if you see it, will cause you to instantly kill yourself or go mad. Sight versus sound, who wins? It might not be fair to compare the two films, A Quiet Place is a creature feature, where Bird Box is more focused on characters.

The movie operates on two timelines one in the present where Malorie is working to traverse through the wilderness and along a river, via a boat, blindfolded with two children in tow. The other tracks the events leading up to the current situation, beginning at ground zero, moving through how Malorie survived, the other survivors she met along the way and how she eventually ended up adrift on a river in a tinny with two kids blindfolded.

Who’s in it?

It’s a pretty impressive cast of survivors. Sarah Paulson plays Malorie’s sister Jessica. Aussie acting royalty Jackie Weaver plays Cheryl. Self-proclaimed Rap Devil Machine Gun Kelly suitably plays a piece of white trash named Felix. The Predator’s Trevante Rhodes puts in a really good performance as Tom. Sandra Bullock sheds the Miss Congeniality moniker to play the less than friendly Malorie and John Malkovich is not only wasted but totally miscast as Douglas. As a huge fan of Malkovich this was pretty disappointing to see, he just phones this one in.

The movie was enjoyable and the concept certainly original enough to grab my attention but the screenplay really failed this one.

There’s some minor spoilers ahead.

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The verdict

The fact that the movie worked on two timelines and began with Malorie and the kids about to head to the river presented us with the forgone conclusion that the rest of the survivors probably did not make it. So the only incentive the audience has for investing in the characters is to find out how they died. In a film focussed on characters, because the MacGuffin is the entity or event or whatever the hell it is, that’s a bit of a problem.

Also, the ending was so completely preposterous that the odds of it happening—even in the face of a post apocalyptic sci-fi shit show about something that drives the population to wipe itself out just by looking at it—were ridiculously slim.

However (and I never thought I would ever say this) Sandra Bullock’s performance was what made this film almost work. It is easily the highlight, and she does such a good job with the character from the way she speaks to the kids, only referring to them as “boy” and “girl” to how she stumbles around in her blindfold, injecting a huge dose of tension into some pivotal scenes.

Other critics are saying the film might be some kind of metaphor for motherhood, putting forward a message that in order for kids to flourish and survive you have to surrender control and exchange it for love. I’m not entirely sure that’s correct because Malorie was a total hard arse for most of the film and if she hadn’t been so ruthless she would not have made it to the final act. But given that I’m a bloke, I probably can’t really comment too much on what any ladies or mums who watch this movie would think.

Bird Box has some really good ingredients, a great cast, a cool concept and some awesomely tense moments, is enjoyable in parts, but a bit all over the place in others.

As far as birds go, this one is a hard to swallow.

🍿🍿1/2

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