Running Time: 124 minutes
Written by: Eric Heisserer
Directed by: Susanne Bier
Featuring: Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, Jacki Weaver, Rosa Salazar, Danielle Macdonald, Lil Rel Howery, Tom Hollander, BD Wong, Sarah Paulson and John Malkovich
Gary:“Open your eyes, it’s so beautiful.”
This week Netflix has released the horror movie adaptation of the genre novel “Bird Box” (2018) onto its service, which on its surface may seem like a riff on the massively successful “A Quiet Place” (2018) which like this new genre movie is based around one basic element that human’s rely on, that earlier movie was sound, this new movie is sight. Both movies are centred around the family unit, as well as asking what family means and where that group comes from, whether by blood or by circumstance. Ultimately though this is the only place where the two movies intersect, as how the narratives as well as the goals of each movie play out are extremely different which makes each of these genre pieces their own definite thing, with very separate identities. However because of their post-apocalyptic alien invasion story they are both generally similar and so the landscapes that are shown onscreen seem eerily familiar which is detrimental to both because they have been released within months of each other. The good news is that there is enough room for both movies to exist comfortably as the differences that exist are wide enough that viewers should have a good time with both, I know I did. Not only that the size of the movies is different offering very different scopes for us to live in and investigate – if anything there are more questions answered in “Bird Box” than the other.
The past ten years has been a bonanza for genre movies, especially horror, not only does there seem to be more being produced than ever before, especially with the advent of cheap film making equipment, more quality filmmakers entering the genre as well as more production companies realising there is money to be made, especially with the increase in online streaming services, whihch is where “Bird Box” fits into very comfortably.
The movie revolves around Malorie Shannon who receives news that a mass rate of hysteria and suicide is spreading across the country, but something more sinister proves to be in progress. After her older sister, Jessica, succumbs to the “Problem”, Malorie learns from a group of survivors that the Problem is an evil other-worldly entity that possesses the ability to become a victim’s worst fears and drives them to the point of insanity, eventually forcing them to commit suicide. When she loses contact with the group, Malorie must make it her mission to guide her young children through a forest and down a river in order to make it to a windowless safe haven. Because the Problem can only take a form if its seen, the journey must be done blindfolded.
“Bird Box” has been adapted from a novel published in 2014, directed by Susanne Bier, produced by Bier and star Sandra Bullock, very successfully I would say. Bier’s films often play out against a wide-reaching global backdrop, their focus is intimate, carefully exploring the explosive emotions and complexities of familial bonds. This unique combination is part of the formula that has made her Denmark’s leading female filmmaker. The actual plot of the movie is goal based with a kind of road movie, albeit it on a river, as the main narrative, but with a flashback story told separately so as to indicate how the Sandra Bullock character has ended up where she has, although this does reduce the tension of the thread told in the past as we know at some point all the people she has grown close to are going to probably die. This is a movie filmed with a lot of close-ups but they never seem to get tiring or boring which is a credit to Bier whose last movie was a major let down in “Serena” (2014), here she directs like we have come to expect, tension building with payoffs throughout to hook the audience at different times . This is a horror/thriller that replicates the directors amazing success with the series “The Night Manger”(2016), that to built tension with some incredible talent involved.
There is no doubt that the star here is Sandra Bullock who in case you missed it can act alongside any actor working today, here she is less glamorous than she has been in years, it suits her, she is playing a woman who has to become a protector almost as the movie begins. She plays a character with varying degrees of emotion who has to be believable as her reactions to the events around her are what we are watching, especially as we never see the aliens that have invaded the Earth and the other characters personal little worlds which is devastating, of course. Like many Netflix projects there is never any holding back on the quality of talent in front of the camera, “Bird Box” is no exception. The standout supporting actor for me is Trevante Rhodes who is fast becoming one of my favourites, in this he lends the movie some grounded drama as well as heart which he does as believably as anyone I have seen before, I cannot wait to watch his career take shape. Other highlights in the cast are the always great Jacki Weaver, Tom Hollander, BD Wong, Sarah Paulson and John Malkovich who all play very different characters and carry much of the drama and thrills whilst in the movie, leaving the two main leads to give depth to the story as well as the predicament they all find themselves in.
There is no doubt that this movie is very different to “A Quiet Place”, it has a more complex narrative as well as possibly more complicated characters that while not as personal as other genre movies does have a through line as well as a conclusion that means we stay with basically one character and see her journey from someone who is not capable to someone in charge of her ultimate destiny, as well as a carer, something she is desperately frightened of at the beginning of her story. The other element is the scope of the story that has some very different locations, it could have been a locked box movie which part of it very much is, but there is an entire other side which is a juxtaposition between that and the outdoor locations which are used. Both aspects are important as it shows there really is nowhere to hide, danger lurks everywhere and its very real even if you are physically unable to see it, if you do you are in trouble.
I enjoyed this movie far more than I thought I would, that is down to the acting talent on display, which is huge, and the story zips along at a good pace, even with a two hour running time, which seems de rigour fro a horror movie these days. If you want to watch A-list talent being hunted by unseen aliens as well as a family drama unfolding this is for you, there are far more unoriginal and tired movies on Netflix, in fact this could have gone theatrical very easily.
“Bird Box” is streaming on Netflix from the 21st December 2018.