Susanne Bier’s Bird Box, based on a 2014 novel by Josh Malerman, imagines a post apocalyptic world where we all must develop a blind side. How fitting, I suppose, that Sandra Bullock is the headliner. It is she and some of her cast mates that holds this concoction together, at least for a while.
We first meet Bullock’s Malorie as she instructs two young children that they are about to embark on a dangerous trip with her. She is soon rowing and rowing and rowing a boat not so gently down a choppy stream to an unknown destination. They’re all blindfolded.
A flashback to five years earlier finds the pregnant Malorie getting a checkup with her sister (Sarah Paulson). She seems none too excited about her impending delivery. Different complications arise as people start committing suicide suddenly all over the globe. It’s soon discovered opening your eyes and looking at some never seen creatures brings on the self violence.
Our soon to be parent manages to hole up with a group of strangers that includes the home’s boozy owner (John Malkovich), another expectant mom (Danielle Macdonald), and a war vet (Trevante Rhodes) who connects with Malorie. It’s in these initial scenes where Bird Box is at its most engrossing. There’s nothing terribly fresh here as the group figures out how to survive, but there’s some interesting characters and actors playing them to make it worthwhile. Jacki Weaver, Lil Rel Howery, and rapper Machine Gun Kelly are part of the eclectic mix as well.
This gets about an hour’s worth of mileage from its premise and the wrinkle of the sighted having to go blind is a newish twist once they venture out (thank goodness for GPS). Eric Heisserer’s screenplay never concerns itself with what the heck really happened to cause this anyway. We do know birds can sense the monsters. The unexplained phenomena of what did happen isn’t all that important, but total ignorance is a tad surprising. Heisserer did significantly superior work with his adapted script for Arrival.
The picture is as much an allegory about motherhood than it is a science fiction horror thriller. There’s also elements of M. Night Shyamalan’s unfortunate The Happening. It had more unintentional laughs than this, but it also found cooler ways for spellbound victims to off themselves.
Bullock’s performance is committed and she certainly makes this watchable. The Oscar winner has played maternal instinct impressively before (the already mentioned The Blind Side, Gravity) and we see it here. Yet the true gravity of this whole situation never feels as suspenseful as it quite should. Maybe it’s the details left unseen or maybe it’s the familiar themes we’ve seen plenty of times already.
**1/2 (out of four)