So, we’re going to be talking about what is at the moment, Netflix’s biggest fad. It led to a strange internet meme involving blindfolds, and contains Sandra Bullock, so I have a reason to pay attention. This is Bird Box.
Set in a post-apocalyptic world that brought back memories of a quiet place (no pun intended), our story revolves around a woman named Malorie (Bullock) who decides to take 2 5-year-old children, a Boy and Girl, on a boat trip up the river to a sanctuary that she heard about on a radio. What makes the film stand out from others is quite obvious – they exit the house with their belongings, get into a small rowing boat, travel, and with the exception of the times they pull a blanket over their heads, they do everything blindfolded. The young girl proceeds to carry a small box containing 3 birds. Hence, where the film gets its name. The film then goes back and forth between the present day and flashbacks to the events of 5 years ago, when it all hit the fan. Monsters that make their presence known with intense winds and whispering ghosts start to enter people’s lives, and just by looking at something. Whatever it is. It’s enough to make them do 1 of 2 things: Either commit suicide, or become like wild beasts. It is here were Malorie begins her journey from a reclusive artist to a vicious mama bear.
Now for the philosophical and technical nonsense, then some star ratings (yay!):
The film’s approach is very old school, in particular when it comes to horror. It is a looming horror. One that builds on a fear of the unknown, and makes the journey more frightening thing than necessarily a monster at the root of everything. The special effects are kept surprisingly simple. To the point that they could be easily replicated in real life in some way, or look realistic enough in CGI, even if the film was made 20 years ago. The visual style is set in very familiar places, primarily the woods and a few houses.
The acting in Bird Box ranged from above average to really good. John Malkovich is awesome as the alcoholic, gun-welding, overly cautious widower, and Sandra Bullock puts on easily the best performance in the film. The villains are intentionally intimidating – it’s the eyes, and the smile. Very predatory. Then there are also some interesting casting decisions as well. John Malkovich, obviously, is the other most famous person in the film. Then you have Trevante Rhodes from the movie The Predator (Reboot, not original), Danielle Macdonald from the movie Patti Cake$, BD Wong from the Jurassic Park series, Tom Hollander from Pirates Of The Caribbean, Sarah Paulson from American Gothic, Parminder Nagra from Bend It Like Beckham and Agents Of SHIELD Season 4, stand-up comic Lil Rey Howery, US Rapper Machine Gun Kelly, former MMA fighter Keith Jardine, Rosa Salazar (who will be playing Alita in the live action version of Alita: Battle Angel, a great manga) and many others. Nobody did a bad job. Even the kids were well directed and convincing.
The Characters aren’t overly developed outside of Malorie, and many are there to drive the story forward or provide ways in which Malorie herself progresses in her journey. Some characters are better developed than others and give different perspectives on what’s happening, based on whether they have missing family, lost family, or are alone and need someone or something to make them remember life and forget the horror. I’m choosing not to spoil what happens to them.
Story-wise, the film can come across as weird to some because of how much it comes across as a fantasy…It could even be suggested that when M. Night Shyamalan made The Happening, it was meant to be more like this. But there is a strong metaphorical aspect to it, and it plays in well with the world around us right now. A world that can see everything through a phone. And with knowing so much more, we can now find more things to be afraid of. We also have more ways to make us regret, feel alone, hurt and lose hope. With so much information now available, we question what is most unhealthy about freedom. Bird Box is about the things we let into our lives. Some things are so horrible that if we let them in and give them free reign, we either try to cancel it out at any cost (the suicides) or we embrace it and let it poison us (The psychos trying to remove blindfolds). True fear is a plague, hopelessness is a monster, and this is where the Bird box comes in. The Birds in the box are safe. Where they are safe is where they are alive. We could mention cruelty and say they should be free. But if the world outside of the box only gives them the freedom to die a horrible death, then in the box, it is hope of something better that keeps them from trying to escape. They are symbolic for life in the film. Perseverance for better things by not letting the horrors of the world’s situation dominate our lives to the point of fear, terror, and lovelessness.
The film’s haunting score was created by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails, and in various points, it possesses tones that are reminisce of songs they’ve produced commercially, in particular from their albums “The Downward Spiral” and “The Fragile”…Which are both 20 and 25 year old now…sorry, I got off track there. Commercial songs throughout the film are spread out and memorable. It’s clear that Grunge is gradually coming back into music (something I’ve been waiting to see happen for years). “Coming Down” by Dum Dum Gils reminds me of something Mazzy Star would produce (Nothing bad there). Then there’s “I say a little prayer”, covered by Deonna Warick in 1 of the lighter scenes of the film, and lastly there’s “Piano Sonata No. 47 in B Minor, HOB. XVI: 32 – Il Menuet” by Joseph Haydn – all of which is very complementary. In general, I think the music is the best part of the film outside of Sandra Bullock.
The Cinematography is strong, and tells the story very well. There are no particularly memorable shots, or anything that might make me pause and look, other than outside of the birds eye view of the river and forest, which is why it’s not as highly rated.
Would I recommend Bird Box? Yes, I would. It’s simple, but metaphorical enough to be weird, and manages to blend the artistic with the commercially tempting without trying to be pretentious or distracting. It is engaging and well focused. But I do feel that there are places throughout that could have been tied up or developed better.
Visuals/Art Style: ****
Acting: ***3/4 (***** from Sandra Bullock and John Malkovich)
Characters: *** (**** for Malorie)