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Due to the premise of Susanne Bier’s post-apocalyptic drama Bird Box, a film in which everyone must remain blindfolded or risk insta-suicide, there is a nagging feeling that something is missing. After all, this is a film that is very much concerned about senses other than sight, so trying to convey these ideas via such a visual medium seems a little like cheating. Or, conversely, perhaps it could stand to be more creative in its camerawork. However, this in itself is also a criticism I had of Josh Malerman’s source novel of the same name, and it might be better to laud both inceptions Bird Box for attempting something different.
Bird Box opens with a woman, Malorie (Sandra Bullock), and two young children – known only as Boy and Girl (Julian Edwards and Vivien Lyra Blair) – preparing to risk their lives on a dangerous trip for unspecified reasons. Much of the film is then taken up by flash-backs explaining how Malorie got there. In this universe, what appears to be a pandemic spread quickly around the world: one in which any individual that sees a mysterious presence suddenly turns suicidal, attempting to end their life in the most immediate way possible. Yes, admittedly this sounds suspiciously similar to M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening and, well, it kind of is. However, it’s also a little bit more nuanced and tries to say something interesting about the modern world.
In order to avoid the chaos that is causing all these suicides, a rag-tag group of individuals including Sandra Bullock’s pregnant Malorie congregate together in a large suburban house, covering all the windows to avoid the risk of seeing the mysterious entity. Once it becomes evident that they’re going to have to survive on their own, the group resort to using blindfolds and navigating by touch when leaving the house to seek food.
Bird Box focuses on the interpersonal relationships that form as the survivors attempt to establish friendships and deal with animosities in a world of dwindling supplies and no certainty. Indeed, much of the film’s success comes from the interactions between Malorie and others, particularly with her closest confidant in the new world, Tom (Trevante Rhodes), and the selfish and mistrustful (but admittedly pragmatic in the face of the apocalypse) Douglas (John Malkovich). In a particularly interesting moment from a sequence right out of Dawn of the Dead, some of the characters debate the merits of remaining safely ensconced in a supermarket rather than helping other survivors. There’s perhaps not a whole lot that is novel in Bird Box. Yet,some of its introspective moments articulate their everyday dilemmas in surprising ways.
Bird Box is a compelling apocalyptic drama with engaging characters and a tense story about survival and motherhood. It becomes a little saccharine at times. At others it treads a rather well-worn path in relation to other end-of-the-world narratives of the last decade. But there are enough interesting things going on to make it worthwhile. It seems to be a reminder that we should pay more attention to our surroundings. After all, smartphones, like unseeable Lovecraftesque horror, do kind of suck the life out of us, right? That’s not unreasonable advice.